Perhaps you have heard that puppies and/or adolescent dogs sometimes go through a “fear period” – though a “sensitive period” might be the more appropriate term.
Puppies can go through a more sensitive period in the eight to eleven week range.
Some professionals also believe that adolescent dogs also can go through another sensitive period at some point, typically in the six to eighteen month old range.
Zooka actually has been going through such a period the past couple of weeks. He has always been somewhat cautious, thank goodness! Zooka is five and a half months at this stage.
A puppy with no fear of anything can be problematic! Ideally a puppy has a healthy degree of caution. Though we don't want to see puppies who are so cautious or fearful that they are afraid to go anywhere or meet anyone new.
Over about a two-week period, Zooka was experiencing what seemed to be significantly more caution than he previously had. How did this look for him?
In his normal cautious manner, if something made him unsure, he would sit and watch from a safe distance. He would take the time to observe and assess.
In most cases, as long as it was not something potentially dangerous, he would eventually proceed forward to check it out. In most cases, that was WITH ME leading the way and showing him that I was not afraid of it. Sometimes he would approach on his own, depending on what it was.
During this more sensitive period, he was much more likely to growl or bark at the unknown thing. Could be a rug crumpled up on the floor, a tree stump, or a baby stroller at the park. Could be things he has seen before but was not worried about. Could be things he never even noticed before – or didn't think was worth paying any attention to.
For example, we were at the park during this time and he spotted a stroller sitting just off the sidewalk – not moving, just sitting there. He stopped and did a bit of his woof/growl that said, “I am feeling uncertain about this!”
We had to take a few minutes to assess it before we could get any closer and be able to eventually pass by it to where we were heading.
Eventually we were able to approach and sniff it and then move on. We walked by it later on that same outing with no problem.
But we had passed by people with strollers before this. Previously, we had seen strollers (not a lot, but we had seen them) in motion that were not a problem. This time, it was.
I did NOT avoid the stroller (or any of the other things he was worried about). If I simply went the other way and avoided, it was likely he would be just as afraid of it the next time we encountered it.
I did make certain to take the time needed to allow him to check things out from a safe distance. I did allow him to approach when HE was ready.
I never forced him to approach anything that worried him. He needed to feel safe in his approach.
I always went up to the item, person, whatever-it-was first so he could see that I felt safe and nothing bad happened to me.
If he ever was not willing to approach close enough to touch the item, I got as close as he was able to comfortably do and then we would move on.
I think we are coming out of this stretch, but I have not had a chance to get him out to any new places this week to really test that just yet.
If he's still not past this stretch, we will keep working through everything for as long as we need to ensure he moves through this phase. If I don't work him through it, it could certainly end up with developing some lifelong fears.
Do not assume they will outgrow it. Help them to do so! But be very careful to approach it properly so you don't accidentally make things worse. I give another example of working through something fearful in this blog post about Zuzu when she was young.