Our puppies will go through different stages in their lives and, during adolescence, fear is one of them. Puppies start to enter adolescence at 4 months but it really starts kick in between 6 and 12 months.
It’s now that your puppy may start to develop a fear of things that are new and also familiar which can happen all of a sudden. Your puppy may notice that some people don’t belong, they’re not part of your pack and, where as before they would be happy to meet new people ever hopeful of a fuss and affection, now they see them as a threat.
Objects lit from a strange angle can suddenly appear menacing, a new person or perhaps someone they don’t remember could enter the room unexpectedly causing them to startle and bark, and in some cases become reactive.
Just like with children at adolescent age, hormones are raging. They are transitioning from being a puppy with a puppy brain into a dogs body and like humans this can be very confusing and disconcerting. Your puppy has followed you and trusted you felt very secure knowing that you are taking care of them, now they may start to feel that they need to take the lead and protect you and the rest of the pack and yet also feeling they’re not yet ready for this responsibility and feel quite insecure.
Their reactivity level will increase and this can lead to bad behaviour being learnt.
What we want to avoid is our puppy learning that if they bark, lunge or react they can make the scary thing go away, we need to increase our positive socialisation during this period so that the scary, suspicious object, place, or person has a positive association.
So what should you do to help your puppy?
Control the environment so he doesn’t feel he has to defend himself.
Stay calm yourself when someone is approaching. When reactivity starts; speak calmly, do a “Sit” and some “Look at me’s” with treats to distract them. Tell your puppy everything is ok in a very sure, calm voice.
If you show that you are nervous about whether they will sudden become Mr Hyde then they will feel it. Unwittingly you may put fear down the lead by tensing, this will cause your puppy to feel they need to defend you and themselves. Try to keep the lead loose and stay relaxed.
If treats can distract your puppy then use lots of them when strangers are near and take them away when they’re gone. This way pup associates strangers with a good experience. If your puppy is too stressed to take treats calmly walk them away until their anxiety is low enough for them to accept a treat.
Try not to get too close to the scary thing or person, stand a good distance away while treating so that the threat is minimal and slowly get closer, working always to the point of their control.
Don’t force your puppy to interact with who ever or what ever has made them feel uncomfortable. Allow them to investigate in their own time and praise or treat each time they stay calm or get close by themselves.
Try to ignore the bad behaviour. If your puppy is reacting due to fear you want to take the level down using positive reenforcement or walk your puppy away to a place where they can feel safe. Punishing or forcing our puppy to face their fear at this point will only exacerbate the fear. Encourage your puppy so that they build confidence.
Don’t hide your puppy away you need to socialise your puppy as much as possible and introduce new people, places, sights and sounds. You may find a trigger as simple as a person wearing a hat, so try and get as many people to wear hats around your puppy and each time create a good experience either with treats, fuss or play. It’s amazing how quickly we can build our pups confidence if we just take the time to work out what it is that is troubling them.
Your puppy will grow out of it as they gets a little older so by controlling the fear we stop there being any future repercussions.
My Puppy Gary is 9 months at the time of writing this and is going through it, he’s scared of a tree we have in the garden at night when the sensor light shines from the side, he jumped at a cyclist in the Forrest today which appeared through the trees and startled him, he barked at lady simply walking along the path because it was getting dark and she was lit from behind. He loves the sound of his own voice at the moment too... but it’s a stage, and all stages pass.
Good Luck Training!! 😊