A fear period is a period of time or a developmental phase where your puppy becomes sensitive or overly cautious of new things.
As your puppy’s hearing and eyesight develop and change it also changes their perception of things. A plastic bag blowing, a new item of clothing flapping on the clothesline, or even a familiar item of furniture just moved to a new place can have your puppy barking, growling, rushing or hiding from the object they now perceive as the ‘scary thing’.
How and when your puppy deals with stressful situations, new environments or experiences is individual and varied. Confident, out-going puppies who have been gently exposed to different sights and sounds early in their development will probably navigate their way through these stages without their owner even being aware that another puppy milestone has been reached.
Like humans, our puppies have a survival response and are triggered to react to threats whether real or imagined in a flight, fight, freeze or fidget response.
When your puppy is stressed his body will release hormones and neurotransmitters, the rush of adrenaline supercharges his energy, heightens his senses and quickens response times.
Let me explain these four fear responses in terms of what you are likely to observe.
Flight – Your puppy will try and flee, leave, run or escape the situation. During a flight response you will see your puppy hiding or lowering his body posture, then he will plan his departure, leaving at a fast pace in an attempt to put as much distance as he can between himself and the ‘scary thing’.
Fight – If your puppy feels threatened, he may exhibit aggressive behaviour as a means of defending himself against the ‘scary thing’ rushing towards it, snapping and growling actively in defensive mode with his posture stiff.
Freeze – Your puppy will freeze and be motionless, staring at the ‘scary thing’ sometimes he may hold his breath and have a fixed look in his eyes. This posture may continue while the situation in front of him plays out.
Fidget – This behaviour can also be referred to as ‘fool around’. When exposed to a new object or environment your puppy may present these behaviours in a frantic and excessive fashion, roll around, rush about, jump up and down, drop and show his belly, mouth, or lick. These mannerisms are signs that your puppy is in stress overload. He is participating in a range of different behaviours in an attempt to cope with the situation.
The critical development stages and when a fear period is likely to be observed varies for every puppy, however here is a general guide:
Stage 1 – around five weeks old
Stage 2 – Eight to eleven weeks old
Stage 3 – Four to six months old
Stage 4 – Six to ten months old
Stage 5 – Twelve months old
Stage 6 – Fourteen to eighteen months old