The Fear Period is a unique point in the life of a puppy; not only does it usually appear suddenly, but attempting to resolve fear issues during this stage of puppyhood can leave even seasoned dog owners perplexed. However, do not fear! It won’t last forever, and usually it is actually rather simple to correct with a bit of patience, along with the knowledge of how to respond to your puppy’s fear. In this blog post, we will equip you with the tools you need to be prepared to correctly respond to your pup if and when you encounter a Fear Period.
What Is a Fear Period?
First of all, let’s answer the question “What is a Fear Period?” This is quite simply a phase of puppyhood which arises between 8 and 10 months of age in which some puppies, out of nowhere, begin to convey an irrational fear of harmless objects or places towards which they previously had never displayed any fear. This fear can manifest itself in many ways, whether it be barking, trembling, backing away from an object or a refusal to continue walking towards said object.
Please understand that if your puppy encounters a fear period, it isn’t your fault. No breed is perfect, and the Fear Period is simply one of the very few “flaws” to which English Cream Golden Retrievers are susceptible. The correct way to handle a fear period is quite counter-intuitive, however, so please take the time to read the below tips carefully so that you can be well prepared to lead and guide your pup through their fears if and when their Fear Period occurs.
The Most Common Mistake
As human beings who need love and comfort, our first reaction when we see our beloved canine family members struggling with fear is to find a way to comfort them. Ironically, this is the WORST recourse that a dog owner could take. As a pup is showing a non-warranted fearful reaction to thunder or a garbage can or whatever the stimulus may be, by coddling the dog the owner is unknowingly condoning and even reinforcing this behavior. A good analogy would
be obedience training. In obedience training, when we want a dog to know that whatever they just did was the correct response to our command, we shower them with positivity by using a high pitched voice, giving them loving pets, etc. This lets the pup know “I did the correct thing, and all I have to do to get more love and affection from my human is repeat whatever it is that I justdid immediately prior to receiving the praise.” In the very same manner, if we place our hands on the pup or attempt to comfort them with our voices when they are showing unjustified fear, we are inadvertently sending a very strong signal to the pup that says “good job! Keep doing what you’re doing!” Ironically, this is the very last thing that we want to convey in these situations.
So if we must learn to resist the very strong temptation to rush in and “save” our pups from can-crushing noises or the mailman or whatever irrational fear that they demonstrate during a fear period, then what are we to do instead? The best thing that you can do when you encounter your pup struggling with a fear period is to not react at all to the cause of the fear. If a pup is scared to leave its crate, ignore her! She will have to exit eventually on her own. If he is petrified of the sounds of thunder, go on doing whatever it is you would normally be doing, making the same noises and displaying the same calm, positive energy which you would have displayed otherwise. The mere act of acknowledging the “scary” object will inevitably increase the nervous sensation in the pup’s brain. However, if we give off calm vibes by acting totally nonchalant towards the stimulus, our pup will (eventually) realize that they also do not need to fear. Your pup has learned to trust you and be confident in who you are, and ultimately wants to know that they are protected by you. If they see through our calm energy that we have nothing to fear, then they will eventually mimic that behavior and realize that they also have nothing to fear.
I say “eventually” because it will not be an immediate epiphany on the part of the dog, and might even take days or weeks. This is where patience comes in on the part of the owner. It will require quite a few instances of completely ignoring your pup’s fear for the realization to begin to sink in for the pup. The good news, however, is that the more times you successfully exemplify the correct behavior for your pup in reaction to specific objects like trash cans or manholes or whatever the “scary object” may be, the more the pup will begin to apply his newly learned confidence to all new objects in general. The purpose isn’t necessarily to teach the pup that trash cans are harmless, but instead to teach the pup that new objects are to be investigated with caution and curiosity, not panic and anxiety.
So what to do if I’m in a public place in which I can’t simply ignore my dog and walk away, but instead am forced to tackle the situation head on? For example, if my dog suddenly begins to display an unwarranted fear of the vet’s office, which we have visited many times with no issues? The key here is still to maintain a passive role instead of actively trying to fix the problem. Simply existing and being near your dog is all they need in these situations. In this specific example, the best thing to do would be to sit in the waiting room and keep your pup on leash, have them sit at your feet, and allow them to lean against you or touch you. Do not allow your pup to paw at you or get in your lap. The contact of leaning against you helps to reassure your pup, but will not encourage their behavior. However you feel about a situation is how your dog will feel about it. The first few times you put this technique into practice, you may have to simply “ride out” the tantrum or fear. However, with repeated instances of you being nonchalant and going on with your life as normal, the pup should learn to trust your calm demeanor enough to relinquish their temptation towards anxiety and fear.
Lastly, it helps to have a positive attitude. If I enter into a particular situation that is scary for my dog with a cynical attitude, expecting the same unwanted reaction that I got last time and thinking to myself “Oh boy, here we go again,” our perceptive pets can pick up on this nervous energy and will be motivated to increase their stress and fear, thus producing the same reaction as before. Instead, a positive attitude and an open mind will garner better results. Entering into a particular situation which you know your pup struggles with by thinking “I wonder what kind of new, improved reaction I might get this time” is a much better approach, as it effectively causes you to forget or let go of whatever stimulus is causing your dog’s fear, allowing you to give off genuinely positive, calm vibes.