Ever wonder why your dog is scared of everything so suddenly? If your dog is still a puppy, they may likely be going through what’s called the puppy fear periods.
The puppy fear stages are a completely normal part of puppy development, so you shouldn’t fret when you notice your fur baby acting skittish. They usually happen one or two times before your dog reaches one year of age, but some may experience up to four fear stages.
If you think your pup might be going through a fear stage, you might be wondering how to best handle their changed behavior. In this article, we discuss what exactly the puppy fear periods are, when they occur, and what responsible pet parents can do to help their fur babies get through this fearful time.
What is the puppy fear stage?
What exactly is the fear phase in puppies? The fear stage is when your canine’s brain undergoes massive changes to better understand and interpret the world around them. During this time, your pup is learning what to avoid that might cause harm and what new or unknown things are okay for them to interact with.
These developmental shifts are healthy. There’s no reason to be alarmed if a dog parent suddenly notices their generally confident and happy pup suddenly becomes afraid of things overnight.
Timeline of fear stages in puppy development:
- 8-10 Weeks Old
- 4-6 Months Old
- Around 9 Months Old
- Between 14-18 Months Old
Dogs typically go through at least one fear period during their life, and most average about four. Some dog parents may not notice the later fear periods as their dogs are likely to be well-adjusted and have strong personalities by this point in their development.
What to do during each fear stage
Even the best, most socialized pup will likely experience fear stages. Each stage lasts about two to three weeks. It’s important for pet parents to recognize the signs of these phases and try their best to guide their pup through this anxious period.
We have an entire blog post dedicated to fear-free pet parenting that can help you and your family understand these cues and improve pet behavior. Many veterinarians and groomers are also adapting the concepts of fear-free pet care to help ease the anxiety pets may experience at vet visits and grooming appointments.
Signs of a puppy fear stage
These dog behavior changes are typically sudden and onset, and can appear as:
- Fear of people, animals, or unfamiliar objects
- Startling easily at sudden changes and noises
- Fearful body language (barking and slowly moving away from certain objects, tucked tail, pinned ears, and even urination)
- Avoidance after a fearful experience (for example, your pup avoids following you to the bathroom after being scared by the loud noise of a hair dryer)
Try your best to observe your pup during these times to figure out which odd behaviors your scared puppy might be trying to communicate with you.
Dog Fear Stage #1: 8-10 Weeks Old
You’re likely to first catch signs of your puppy’s behavior changing around the eight to ten week mark.
This can be a very stressful time for your puppy, especially because this is around the time puppies typically leave their litter to join their furever families.
It’s best to try to create as many positive experiences for your puppy as possible during this time. Make sure to give treats and positive reinforcement for good behavior because it might be difficult for them to determine right from wrong during this period.
Try not to reprimand your puppy for any bad behavior during this phase because they are still developing — any negative reinforcement may linger with them into adulthood.
Dog Fear Stage #2: 4-6 Months Old
If you notice your dog is suddenly scared of you out of the blue, it’s likely that they are going through another fear period. When they are between four and six months old, they are going through their “testing” phase of development; seeing how far they can go and pressing their limits in the world, so you might not notice any freight.
You might confuse their skittishness with other problematic behaviors which are common during this time, such as teething and chewing on shoes, clothing, and furniture. Puppies usually finish teething around six months of age, when the upper canine teeth come in. It’s handy to have a few chew toys on deck to prepare for this stage.
Dog Fear Stage #3: Around 9 Months Old
Nine months old is typically when most dogs reach their adolescence phase or puberty phase, so they might start to act out.
It may be easy to dismiss a potential fear period in a female puppy who might be having her first heat or is starting to act erratically. You might notice your canine acting more aggressive and stubborn during this time.
Be patient with your pup as they navigate their changing hormones and try to exercise them daily to tire them out during this time. Daily exercise will help them feel comfortable around more stimuli, too.
Dog Fear Stage #4: 14-18 Months Old
Puppies are still considered adolescent from ages fourteen to eighteen months, displaying the same signs of fear as their younger selves would.
Focus on training your puppy's behavior is key because the behaviors they develop during this time are likely to stick with them into adulthood.
How to incorporate puppy socialization training
The puppy socialization window is from three to twelve weeks old. Socialization training is essential to improving not only your puppy’s reactions to potential fear periods, but their overall behavior, too.
This means introducing them and interacting with as many people and dogs as possible. Allow them to explore new scents, textures, and tastes (within reason) to help their brain understand their environment.
The more your dog is familiar with, the less likely they are to be fearful of that thing as they get older. If you notice your pup is especially anxious, we’ve written about how the pandemic has impacted dog behavior and what pet parents can do to help train their dogs during this time.
When does socialization end?
The official puppy socialization period ends at about twelve weeks of age; however, that doesn’t mean you should stop introducing them to new stimuli at this time.
They are likely to be more curious and adventurous at this time, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them and let them roam in a protected area.
Protection with dog insurance
If you’re planning on bringing a new puppy home, it’s a good idea to consider buying pet insurance. After all, you spent months planning to bring your little one home. Consider protecting their health in the long run, too. Spot Pet Insurance offers customizable pet health insurance plans to meet all your fur family’s needs.