If you have read about puppy development stages online or in books, you most likely have heard of a fear period that puppies can experience between 8 and 11 weeks of age. I cover it in my book, Juvenile Delinquent Dogs: The Complete Guide to Saving Your Sanity and Successfully Living with Your Adolescent Dog , published in 2012. Some puppies will experience it. Others don’t seem to. However, it occurs often enough that it is a well-accepted stage of development.
What is less well-documented or understood, is the possibility of a second fear period for dogs some time during adolescence. Since there is a much wider time frame during which this could occur, it’s much more difficult to pin down and define. Some believe it coincides with a growth spurt during adolescence.
I have spoken about it with several of my clients. In one case, the clients had taken their puppy through my Puppy Preschool Class and everything went well. A few months later, they called me. Their now-adolescent dog, who had been friendly with everyone, was suddenly afraid of unfamiliar people. What could they do?
First, we discussed whether it was possible the dog had a traumatic experience recently with a stranger. This was one possible explanation. Even if it were something we would not consider traumatic, it could have been to the dog. They assured me that nothing scary had happened recently with a stranger.
Since the age seemed to fit, I suggested that most likely the dog was experiencing a second fear period. Things that were once no cause for concern – in this case, unfamiliar people – suddenly were frightening for the dog. For other dogs, this could manifest in a fear of other dogs, objects (such as trash cans on the sidewalk on trash collection day), or other things. The dog might have been somewhat cautious, completely oblivious, or even friendly toward the object of concern before, but suddenly the dog is now very cautious or even frightened of it.
For this particular family, I suggested they sign up for my next Juvenile Delinquents Class where we could work on building more confidence and learn that the strangers (others in class) were nothing to be afraid of. We could also have done a few private training sessions as well, but the group class worked well for this dog and over a period of a few weeks, the dog was doing much better.
If your adolescent dog is going through a fear period, don’t dismiss the fear. Don’t scold or punish your dog. Don’t force your dog to “get over it” by flooding him/her with whatever is causing concern. Instead, be patient and help your dog to build confidence and overcome his/her concerns at whatever pace is comfortable.