Puppies generally go through two "fear periods." The first one typically occurs between 8-10 weeks old, and the second one happens in late adolescence, anywhere from 6-14 months of age. During these few weeks, puppies are acutely aware of their vulnerabilities. They may become permanently intimidated by something minor that frightened them, such as a truck backfiring, or another dog barking at them. Even when the puppy is not in a fear period, they can still develop fears.
Here's a crazy, but true example: when my miniature schnauzer was 9 weeks old, I took him with me to a pet store and put him in the shopping cart. He stepped on a squeaky carrot toy in the cart, and it frightened him. Unfortunately, this was before I learned about fear periods and how to desensitize puppies to scary objects. For the rest of his 16 years, he was terrified of squeaky toys.
|As long as it is safe, allow your dog to|
explore items that make him nervous.
In my experience walking dogs, many dogs go through periods when they are fearful of: garbage trucks; other loud trucks; trash cans placed at the curb; home "for sale" signs swinging in the breeze; unexpected machinery/equipment at a driveway; workers banging on things in a nearby house; holiday lawn decorations; and people standing and waiting at the bus stop.
Dogs can develop fears to just about anything, but it usually involves either an unexpected noise (like the vacuum cleaner or a garbage truck) or something appearing "out of place" in the dog's eyes.
THE GOOD NEWS is that with understanding and a little planning, you can help your dog overcome most fears, regardless of how or when they start.
The first step is to make sure you are prepared with some super-tasty treats. For this reason alone, it is worthwhile to always make sure you always have treats available when walking your puppy or dog. Even today, with my 9-year old Giant schnauzer, I use this technique whenever she gets nervous about something that looks out of place on our walks.
You will recognize a fearful reaction by the way he braces himself and puts all his weight in his back legs, as if he needs to flee. Sometimes he may stand stock-still for a moment. When he sees something that startles him, pull out a handful of treats and give him one. If the fearful item can be safely approached, try to approach it with him, giving treats frequently for brave behavior. Encourage him with friendly chatter. "You aren't afraid of this sign, are you? Look, it's just a sign." A dog will pick up on your behavior, so if you act brave and nonchalant, it will help him develop confidence. I try to touch the item, and encourage my dog to take a treat that I will put right on or near the item. If the dog is extremely fearful and backs up, I will still try to give him a treat a little further away before trying to move closer. I will spend up to 4 or 5 minutes letting a dog explore a scary item, and then we move on.
If the dog spooks at a loud noise, immediately provide a treat. You want the dog's default behavior to be looking at you when he hears something worrisome, so you can help him. When I see a garbage truck nearby while walking a dog, I know there will be a series of strange noises, so I frequently stop, stand, and treat until the truck goes by. If your dog reacts to another dog barking madly from a fenced yard, reward your dog with treats and encourage his attention on you as you move him away from the barking dog.
Have you noticed an unexpected fear in your dog? How did you handle it?