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How To Help Your Puppy Overcome Fear Periods!
Whether you adopted a new puppy or a skittish rescue dog, here is what you can do to help him conquer his fears once and for all!
While any dog may have fears of the unknown or be scared of loud or unfamiliar objects, puppies are particularly impressionable. During their first year of life, puppies learn about the world around them and how to interact with other people and dogs. As part of their development, puppies usually go through two fear periods. It’s important to know when your puppy is in a fear period and to help him overcome his fears so that he doesn’t develop lifelong phobias.
Your puppy’s first fear period will likely occur between 8 and 11 weeks, which just so happens to be the time puppies typically go home to their forever families. During this time, it’s important to not overwhelm your puppy as he adjusts to his new environment, as even mild stressors can turn into lasting phobias. For example, many puppies develop a lifelong fear of the vet’s office early in life because they associate it with being poked and prodded. However, it’s still important to their socialization to create situations where they can safely meet new people and have new experiences without adding pressure or forcing them to interact.
The second fear period is the one that typically takes pet owners by surprise. It usually occurs between 6 to 14 months old, and frequently seems to come out of nowhere. Seemingly overnight, your bold, confident, and well-adjusted puppy is suddenly insecure and fearful about a harmless object. Rest assured, this is a normal part of your pup’s emotional development. Help your puppy work through his fear, and know that it will pass.
Of course, older dogs may also have fears they need their owner’s help to overcome. For example, rescue dogs who have never lived in a home before may need help to understand they are safe and everyday objects won’t harm them. For example, Brandon McMillan was called to the animal shelter to help a young border collie mix, named Coco. Poor Coco was likely a stray and was extremely skittish around other people and new environments. But by the end of this episode of “Lucky Dog,” Coco was a much more confident dog who was ready to go home to her adoptive family.
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As Brandon explained, the outside world can be a scary place for a timid dog. Therefore, it was important for Brandon to help Coco work through her fears so she could live a happy and well-adjusted life with her new family. Brandon’s main training tactic was to expose Coco to new environments and stimuli in a non-stressful way and utilize touch in his training. Once Coco is able to touch objects that scare her, she realizes she doesn’t need to be afraid.
If your dog is going through a fear period, you can definitely utilize some of the training tools Brandon demonstrated in the above video to help your pup overcome his fears. But if you aren’t sure what to do, we recommend working with a local dog trainer to ensure you don’t inadvertently make things worse. That said, here are a few tactics you can try:
First, allow your puppy to move away from what scares them. Don’t force them to get closer before they feel ready. Let your puppy control how close he gets and praise him with toys or high-value treats anytime he shows any positive curiosity toward the object in question. For example, touching the object, moving closer, or sniffing it all deserve a reward. You can also praise and reward your puppy for turning to you for guidance in moments of uncertainty.
Second, don’t make a big deal over your puppy’s fear. React normally as if nothing is going on. Even if your big reaction is meant to comfort your pup, you are actually confirming that his fear is valid. If your pup looks to you for guidance at this moment, he needs to see that you aren’t concerned. Hopefully, that will help him realize he doesn’t need to be scared either.
Lastly, keep training sessions short and fun, but also try to incorporate your puppy’s fear into your dog training. Always reward your puppy for taking steps to overcome his fear with rewards, treats, and praise. At the end of the training session, make sure to always end on a positive note.