PUPPIES AND FEAR STAGES
If you’ve ever welcomed a puppy into your family (even if it’s just the two of you) you’ve experienced the pure joy of puppyhood – the curiosity, playfulness and unbounded affection plus the intoxicating smell of puppy breath. Puppyhood can last too long for some rowdy puppies and seems all too short to others when we miss that sweet innocence they bring into our lives.
If you had the blessing of bringing a puppy into your life you may have noticed that seemingly out of nowhere your outgoing sociable puppy suddenly becomes fearful of new people coming in to the house; or perhaps common household noises send your puppy running for shelter. This is a very common but misunderstood issue.
WHAT FEAR STAGES ARE AND WHAT TO WATCH FOR
I’M AFRAID OF WATER! AND MUD! EEEW!
These episodes are called “fear stages in puppies”. Typically there are four fear stages that puppies may go through. The age of the puppies can vary but a general guideline is: around five weeks of age (prior to your having acquired the puppy), around six months, around one year of age and around one and a half years of age. These are average ages and will vary from pup to pup. Some puppies have very mild or even no signs of fear stages; other puppies may show severe signs of fear. Here is a short list of symptoms to watch for:
- Abnormal reactions to noises
- Nervousness around things to which they have never reacted before
- Aggression towards other dogs or people when being walked
- Reacting towards people they know as if they were strangers
- Isolating him/herself and/or hiding under beds or furniture
An average fear stage can last two to four weeks although I have known a fear stage to last eight weeks. This is the ONLY time during their puppyhood that I recommend you “bubble” your dog, meaning don’t take them out on walks or introduce them to new experiences, dogs or people.
INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR IN PUPPIES
Is your dog reactive to other dogs out on walks? Does your dog bark at people, bicycles, cars, fire hydrants? Is your dog afraid of any new thing he encounters? These are all signs of lack of early socialization. Believe it or not the primary socialization period for a dog is between the age of 7 weeks and 20 weeks. That’s the time when you want to get your puppy exposed to everything and anything that he might encounter at some time in his life.
EARLY PUPPY SOCIALIZATION
I know that the mainstream, well intentioned advice is to keep your puppy away from any other dog, don’t take them outside the house until they are fully vaccinated, basically quarantine them until they have all of their shots. While this is very well intentioned advice, the long term ramifications of this can be severely detrimental and can result in phobias that can effect your dog for life. Many of the behavior problems that I see are the result of this lack of exposure to the world. Now I’m not saying to take your puppy to dog parks (that will be addressed in an upcoming blog post) or get them around dogs that you don’t know, but finding and enrolling your dog in an early puppy socialization class that’s monitored where all puppies have at least two vaccinations can transform your dog’s life. Let your puppies see bicycles , kids on skateboards, mail trucks, fire hydrants, landscapers, etc. The more your puppy sees at a young age the more stable he will be in the long run. Over the past 15 years I have been running early puppy socialization sessions with no incidents of disease. In my opinion early socialization is the key to stable, confident dogs for life.
Photo credit: archangel_raphael / Foter / CC BY-ND
There are as many approaches and philosophies on how to teach dogs as there are trainers to teach them. We can usually learn something from almost all methods, even if it’s what we don’t want to do. I do not believe that forceful, intimidating, painful or humiliating techniques are necessary to teach a dog proper manners. Our dogs learn through a process of trial and error, otherwise known as “cause and effect”. Since our puppies come to us not understanding our verbal language and not having been given our “dog rules” they are in need of our guidance to help them learn. It’s our job to teach them what we would like them to know. They don’t know that they can’t pee or poop wherever and whenever, or that the furniture, the carpet, the walls, your clothing, your shoes, the electrical cords, or your flesh are not chew toys. We need patience with our puppies and need to learn to communicate to them in a way that they understand. You are raising a four legged child that needs your help; not your corrections for things that he doesn’t know are wrong. Whether you’re teaching a puppy or teaching an older dog basic manners like sit, down, etc, it’s still the same form of communication. How does your dog learn? Allow your dog the privilege of using his brain and his innate problem-solving ability and trust in his ability to figure it out.
Photo credit: edanley / Foter / CC BY