What Is a Puppy Fear Period?

by Sydney Hess

Scared puppy with harness and leash on laying down in grass

You brought home a confident and outgoing puppy, but all of a sudden they are scared of their own shadow. What gives? 

Puppyhood comes with a set of unique challenges, fear periods commonly being the one that takes owners by surprise. You brought home a confident and outgoing puppy, but all of a sudden they are scared of their own shadow. What gives? 

Puppy Socialization and Fear Periods 

Puppies socialization begins as soon as their eyes and ears open, which generally occurs around 2-3 weeks old. From 3 weeks onward, puppies are like a sponge  absorbing every new sound, sight, and texture around them. Until puppies leave their breeder around 8-10 weeks, they are learning social cues from their mother and littermates. Breeders may use programs and protocols such as Early Neurological Stimulation, Early Scent Introduction, Puppy Culture, or Avidog. These programs give puppies a head start on socialization and will allow them to start having positive experiences right from the whelping box. Once they go to their new family, it is critical that pups continue to be socialized in order for them to become well rounded adult dogs. 

Of course there are puppies who come into shelters with unknown backgrounds, so the majority of a puppy's socializing may come after the pup has been adopted into their new home. It is important to remember that even puppies who have had a perfect start to life can still experience one or more fear periods. 

When Will Puppy Fear Periods Take Place?

Fear periods often occur between 8-11 weeks, and again between 6-14 months. The most common “symptom” that your puppy could be entering a fear period is a sudden onset. Fear periods will generally only last a few weeks at a time. During a fear period, a puppy may suddenly become afraid of things that they have regularly seen or heard throughout their time with you. This may be the vacuum standing upright, a suspicious looking pile of pillows next to the bed, or the sound of a loud garbage truck outside your home. When a pup becomes fearful, their body language can manifest in a few different ways. They might become stiff at the sight of whatever it is they are fearful of, they may bark or grumble, or they could run off. Knowing how to read a dog’s body language is especially important when dealing with a fearful puppy.

Signs of fear in puppies may look like: 

  • Ears pinned back 
  • Whale eye with a stiff gaze
  • Tight lips with or without panting 
  • Stiff or tucked tail 
  • Sudden urination 
  • Vocalization   

How To Work Through a Fear Period 

It is important to support your pup in whatever way they react during a fear period, we don’t want to add stress when they are already feeling vulnerable. If you notice your pup showing fear towards a sight or sound, wait and see if they decide to investigate on their own.

  • If the puppy decides to investigate, reward them heavily with praise, play, or treats for any interaction. 

  • If they decide to not investigate, that is perfectly okay too. We have to let them take the lead during these experiences. 

  • Value quality of interactions over quantity when reintroducing fearful objects or sounds, we don’t want to overwhelm the puppy. 

  • Don’t stop socializing all together if your pup is experiencing a fear period. Go at their own pace and keep a careful watch for any signs of stress. Always bring food or toy rewards to keep things positive! 

  • Be understanding towards your puppy as they are experiencing the world for the very first time. Try not to get upset with your puppy if a fear period leads to setbacks in training. 

  • Remember that fear periods are temporary, so if your pup is showing signs of fear for prolonged periods of time, it might be time to speak with a behaviorist. 

Remember: You're Your Puppies #1 Supporter 

Fear periods are difficult for both the puppy and the new owner, and it is easy to get discouraged. Remember that your puppy is going to look up to you for reassurance and support, so it is important to use this time as an opportunity to solidify your bond! Take a deep breath, fear periods (thankfully) do come to an end.

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