Fear Stages

Fear stages in puppies and dogs can be confusing to owners. Stresses in a dog’s life can trigger them as well as hormones, normal development, & how they are raised during the critical early months of life. Changing homes is a stressful event in a puppies life and they need time to adjust. They need time to bond and learn to trust the new family.

During puppy development, puppies go through fear periods, in fact, on average they go through about 5 fear periods.

They occur at approximately the following ages:

1. Between 8-10 weeks – time that you are getting your puppy

2. Between 4 - 6 months

3. Around 9 months

4. Between 14 - 18 months

5. Around 2 years of age

This is a very important part of puppy development, and if handled incorrectly, you could end up with an aggression or behavior problem for life. I can't be specific to the exact age that a puppy will go through a fear period, as all puppies are different. Each puppy will spend a different amount of time in a fear stage, and have a different degree of fear that they show. Also know that what the dog is afraid of, can change from day to day. When your puppy or dog is showing inconsistent behavior, this is what makes it all so very confusing to the human. 

As your puppy enters a fear period, he or she will suddenly become frightened of something that they used to be OK with or used to ignore. His reaction could be hunched down, shaking, backing away, hiding, running away, or submissively urinating. Your puppy could also display more pronounced behaviors such as growling, barking, hackles up, or showing teeth. You have had a happy playful puppy but then, suddenly out of the blue, he refuses to walk down some stairs, he is shaking in the car, refuses to go into a room he has been in several times, or he jumps at the sound of something he has heard before. This is normal, but you must help your dog figure out how to deal with the fears or concerns. The skills of learning how to “shake it off and keep going” will be valuable to him for the rest of his life. It will also reduce the chances that the things he fears will not be permanently imprinted for life. Please note, it is important to keep eye hair trimmed so that puppies and dogs can see clearly.

What's Going On?

  • The puppy that was so confident will suddenly become reluctant to new things.
  • This period can be subtle or extreme
  • This period can come and go several times over this entire period.
  • It may appear to be unprovoked or unrelated to any specific occurrence.
  • Puppy can become frustrating to owners.

What You Can Do

  • Avoid extremes in your response (no anger or coddling).
  • Be patient and understanding (remain calm).
  • We aware of surrounding and potential triggers.
  • Work on desensitizing him with gradual introductions with rewards (reward for being calm, not rewarded for the fear)
  • Avoid too much reassurance or coddling (which is a reward for this unwanted behavior)
  • Don’t over react – just make light of it and encourage him to deal with his fear (work through the fear).
  • Your dog will take his clues from you, if you act frightened or concerned he will too.
  • For an older dog, practice obedience near the object of fear (changes the dogs focus to you)
  • Establish good structure and boundaries within the home environment as well as communication directed towards the dog. This should be approached in a positive and supportive manner that builds upon the dog’s confidence and ability to succeed and gives support through predictability and consistency.
  • Engage in training (something you know your dog can do). This can help build your dog’s bond to you and build up his trust in you. Resulting in an increase in the dog’s confidence.
  • Give it some time. There is no number of set days that a fear stage will last. Some dogs will only have a onetime event and other dogs will have several.

What Not to Do

  • Do not pet your dog or puppy and say “its okay” or “you’re a good dogie” or anything else in a soft calming tone, while the fear is being displayed. Wait for him or her to relax, then pet your dog and tell him or her he’s a good boy.
  • Never leave fearful dogs or puppies alone with children.
  • Do not expect a quick fix. It takes time and patience, there is no set amount of time that it will take. Each dog is different. 

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