How can you help your puppy through the fear phase?
The way in which humans react towards our beloved puppies during the fear phase is vital. Our response can either reassure them that everything is alright or it can cement their fears, often making them worse. There are two phases your puppy could experience.
First Fear Phase
Your puppy experiences their first fear phase at around 2-3 months old. It also happens that this is a critical socialisation period and most likely the time that your the puppy will be leaving their mother to figure out life in their new home.
During this phase, it’s important to keep socialisation positive, reassuring and ensure that you don’t over expose your little pup all at once – in other words, have a socialisation plan. Your pup may show signs of uncertainty or hesitation in some situation and it’s your job as their carer to show them that everything is OK. That there is nothing to be scared of and that new things aren’t all bad. (I will coverPuppy Socialising in future blogs.)
Your puppy will naturally look to you as their new carer for the love and reassurance they once got from their mother. Therefore, you must keep everything fun and upbeat in the situations that your pup is unsure about – they will naturally take a lead from you.
As their new carer, it’s down to you to show your new puppy that it’s all OK and they have nothing to fear. Treats, toys and cuddles are a great way to introduce into environments that they are still trying to figure out.
Up until now, your puppy will probably have been curious and appeared totally fearless about everything. However, once their fear phase kicks in, they will start to naturally develop sensitivity, caution and fear.
Second Fear Phase
So, this can be the difficult one…just as you thought your puppy was starting to behave like a little superstar, the second fear phase can kick in and leave you scratching your head for answers. Why has my puppy suddenly started to bark in the dark? Why have they become wary of the wheelie bin? Why are they nervous of our neighbour?
Don’t be alarmed as this is all perfectly natural. Whilst it’s another phase to get your head around, it is short-term, whilst their developing minds get to grips with the big world around them. It is now that they will really start to assess what’s good in the world and what’s not. Generally, a puppy will experience a secondary fear phase at around 6-14 months. Like the first fear phase, the way us humans react to the puppy during this stage could influence their behaviour for the future! Therefore, it’s important that we don’t let their short-term anxieties turn into deep routed fears.
We can help our puppy through this secondary fear phase by firstly understanding that they are not misbehaving, they are simply learning. Offering reassurance to your pup and showing them that there is nothing to fear will go a long way! They will look for you to show them the way and let them know that everything will be OK.
If you shout at, or remove treasured items from your puppy, this is simply punishing them and definitely something I would advise against. You must support, comfort and reward the good things that your puppy does.
Think about it… put yourself in your dog’s paws and imagine thatyou are all alone… asleep… in darkness… when you hear some unsettling noises that you can’t quite figure out. Those noises begin to worry you and you can’t get back to sleep. It makes you so upset that you start to call out for someone or something recognisable. What would make you feel better about this situation?
Someone shouting at you and banging on the cage before walking off and ignoring you? Or someone reassuring you that it’s safe and making sure you were comfortable. Someone comforting you so you know that they will be there for you when you get scared again?
I know what I’d prefer. I’d want someone to help, support and comfort me.
I read some (awful) “advice” recently about how to cope with an 8-month-old puppy that had started crying during the night. I was quite literally shocked to see that someone advised applying an electric shock collar and shocking the dog every time it cried at night. Imagine what that does to an already scared young puppy?
Reacting to an already nervous puppy in this way simply reinforces that they should be scared at night. Now, they are not only scared of the dark, but they will associate that when it gets dark, they are going to get punished. This is something that will stick in your dog’s mind for a very long time!!!
If you train your puppy to think“Argh, it’s dark and nowI’ll be put in my crate… this is when bad things happen” they are likely to believe this is reality.It’s up to your as their carer to teach your puppy that this isn’t the case and in fact the total opposite. You want them to think “Ahh, it’s dark. Now I get to go into my crate where I will be warm and safe”. There’s a real difference!