Puppy fear periods of dog development
The world is large and to an eight week old puppy just about everything is considered formidable. A fire hydrant looks dangerous, an umbrella frightening and a plastic bag threatening. Many owners laugh at the early fear stages or puppy fear periods in puppyhood.
It’s funny to see their small American Bully bark at the unknown, or cower behind their new masters legs when facing a new threat. Often times owners never realize just how much damage can be done to a puppy’s development if these moments are not used as confidence builders and opportunities to teach rather than to amuse during these puppy fear periods.
Puppies are thought to go through several fear stages before adulthood. These stages are often what shape the way, as grown dogs they will handle or deal with threats. These early encounters can change a great dog that loves strangers, into a fear biting stranger attacking monster.
The fact is that many puppies will first bark, or challenge a threat before they actually go up and greet the object that frightened them. It is here where many owners make the mistake of encouraging the barking, growling or raised hackles during these puppy fear periods.
Owners will often pat the puppy and say “Good Boy”, or “What is it boy?”, these comments reenforce the behavior and will cause the pup to develop confidence in being scared.
They quickly associate growling, barking and acting menacing with removing the objects that cause them uncertainty.
Why is this bad? Well in the future the growls, barks and raised hackles on an eighty pound American Bully are not seen as cute.
When the perceived threat is a human being, the dogs barks are often cause for the human threat to back up, or run away.
This causes the dog to go closer, as it’s main objective is to have the object that frightens it to leave. The negative behavior is then reenforced by the fleeing of the threat. The dogs behavior will worsen and in some cases could result in a potential dog bite, or mauling.
When this happens owners often stare in disbelief at the dog they created into a dangerous animal. A dog that they never taught how to deal with a threat and handle it’s fear in a confident manner and fashion.
Many owners mistake threat displays such as barking and growling as signs of confidence, when in all actuality the most confident dogs are often silent. Barking is often a way for a dog to bluff a threat into retreating.
Many barking dogs never bite, and when they do it’s due to being pushed to the point of a mental breakdown. An experienced trainer can quickly break down a fear biter, from a truly vicious animal.
As stated above the fear stages or puppy fear periods early on are often what triggers this dangerous and unwanted behavior. That being said if owners treat these early fear stages with the proper respect that same potentially aggressive fear biter can be a confident canine good citizen.
The first part of changing the reaction during the puppy fear periods is to slowly have the puppy meet, or face it’s fear. Not overly exaggerating the situation goes a long way. If the owner is confident in the face of a perceived danger, it will go a long way in increasing the confidence in an unsure puppy. Walk directly up to the threat, touch the hydrant, or plastic bag let the puppy sniff and meet the threat, then praise the puppy for it’s confidence.
If you have treats give the puppy a treat when it finally sniffs the object that has shook it up. Turn a negative situation into a positive situation. A verbal cue, is often a good way of reinforcing the fact that scary things are not threatening to the young pup in the puppy fear periods. Dogs are great about associating positive experiences with positive reactions. The same can be said for negative situations and negative reactions.
The main thing is not to be lazy in these early stages. The fact is many owners neglect fear stages in order to focus on issues such as potty training and whining. These issues are definitely important, but neither of these issues can result in breed specific legislation.
Neither can they result in a dog bite, or negative news reports. The number one cause of negative encounters with any breed is a lack of socialization. Socialization is more than just the positive encounters of being petted at pet friendly stores, but also dealing with the issues that will frighten these same pet friendly places if your bully reacts horribly.
Chasing, nipping, growling out of uncertainty is a way for your dog to hype itself up to deal with it’s fear, the key is that we want to build trust within your pet. A trust that you can discern a threat and although it’s okay for your bully to warn you of a potential threat, it will not be required to deal with it. This is key!
Dogs are natural protectors, but what we really want are dogs that wait for direction in most cases, as opposed to reacting on it’s own. This training starts early and often once you get your new pup!
Around four months an owner can set up fear objects during these puppy fear periods, in random places. An open umbrella, a stuffed animal, or a bike in an unusual place on a walk.
These work great in creating training exercises and confidence building activities that will serve as confident builders. Different floorings, loud noises, prepare dogs to expect the unexpected. It is not about creating a dog without a reaction to an odd situation, or occurrence, but to increase the recovery time and make sure the response is a positive one.
Often owners fear that by doing this they are creating a dog that will not protect them. This is not true, the owners are creating a dog that will be able to decipher a true threat from a frightening occurrence. We want to build is strong dogs, mentally and physically. Many breeds such as the American Bully can suffer from the physically strong, but mentally weak examples of their respective breeds! Don’t allow your dog to be the problem and teach your bully to be a problem solver instead, by properly dealing with it’s puppy fear periods.