Puppy Fear Stages. When is it OK to say “It’s OK”?
Puppy fear stages are typical, but don’t count on your dog “growing out of it” without your leadership and help. Parenting instincts to soothe may kick in during puppy fear stages, but dogs do not understand comforting like we do. When going through puppy fear stages the last thing you want to do is scoop them up and pet them. Instead of being reassuring, you are telling them that being afraid is the appropriate reaction and that they are doing a good job.
Working in a kennel that trained hunting dogs years ago, I was also around nursing puppies. When a thunderstorm came, momma dog would just chill. If one wandered too far away, she would bring them back. After a few storms, none of them moved. When those same puppies were eight weeks old and ready to go home, not a single one of them was afraid of thunderstorms. So what happened when they entered the human world? A storm comes; the puppy runs to hide, and we start talking in a soft voice, offering treats and wrapping them up in a blanket to soothe them. Instead of being soothing, you just accidentally nurtured that fear.
Adolescence brings many changes, including puppy fear stages. It is not uncommon for puppies to woof when surprised. Often an unsure bark when a sight or sound surprises them. Over 20 years professionally working with dogs, I have yet to see an eight week old puppy that barks at the doorbell or lunges and growls on leash when they see someone approaching. Some of the most extreme adult anxiety cases belong to very sweet and loving people who accidently encouraged the wrong mental state during puppy fear stages.
The important thing to remember when encountering puppy fear stages, is always to do what is best for your dog. To some extent, we all care what others think, but when it comes to your dog, you can’t. Help your dog work through puppy fear stages without forcing, coaxing or trying to comfort. Remember to focus on confidence building. If your puppy is skittish walking on a strange surface, don’t tell them “it’s ok,” help them get over their apprehension. Be an advocate for your dog, especially during puppy fear stages and you will be rewarded with a stronger, more enjoyable relationship for years to come.