Should I be scared of “fear periods”?

As dog owners we want to make sure we’re doing the best we can by our dogs. Hearing how there’s fear periods can make us want to wrap them in cotton wool and get them through it, or we can feel disadvantaged if we missed these periods for whatever reason.

Think of them as developmental stages. In their book Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs, Dr John Scott and Dr John Fuller identify ten clear stages of psychological development (their labels, my descriptions):

  1. Pre-Natal Period: stress & environmental factors that impact the dam will impact the pups inutero
  2. Neo-Natal Period (0-2 weeks): pups mostly sleep & rely on mum for temperature regulation (and everything else); the way mum behaves will influence the pup’s development
  3. Transitional Period (2-4 weeks): senses kick in, eyes open, teeth come through, barking & tail wagging start; litter mates start impacting each other’s development
  4. Socialization Period (To Dogs 4-6 weeks / To Dogs Humans 4-12 weeks): play, biting, chewing, pain response; this is considered the optimum time for the dog to establish social relations with other dogs, humans and other species. Scott and Fuller describe this period as a special time in life when a small amount of experience will produce a great effect on later behaviour.
  5. First Fear Impact Period (8-11 weeks): traumatic experience will have a more lasting impact if it happens now; 4 & 5 are often combined into one “critical socialisation period”
  6. Juvenile Period (12 weeks to maturity): gradual improvement of motor skills and growth in strength & activity; consistency at this time is key
  7. Seniority Classification Period (4-8 months): time of pushing boundaries; keep consistent!
  8. Flight Instinct Period (4-8 months): time to explore
  9. Second Fear Impact (6-14 months): anecdotally, it seems dogs are more likely to experience “single-event learning”, suddenly reluctant to approach something new, or spooking to loud noises, for example
  10. Maturity (1-3 years): in my experience this is where you see your consistent training & boundaries fall into place; terrible twos is over!

You can see that there’s parallels with human development. As toddlers we learn to walk and don’t necessarily remember the trips & falls enough to be scared of walking. As teenagers we push the boundaries, want to run away, and learn hard lessons of the heart that we carry with us for life.

Genetics also plays a part. And there’s differences between individuals with the same genes, raised the same way – how genes are expressed can create differences in behaviour.

So yeah, there’s a lot going on there.

My advice? Regardless of the age you get your pup, set them up for success with good training!

We need to teach dogs how to deal with stress. Teach them how to accept handling, confinement, noises outside their control. Don’t inadvertently create relevance in things we want the dog to be indifferent to – coercing across the grate with food followed by a big reward event makes the grate relevant.

Nothing beats good socialisation & habituation for a pup. If you get yours at the relevant age, have at it. But don’t stop when puppy classes are done. Keep teaching your pup and navigating the world together.

If you get an older dog, don’t feel disadvantaged. Put the work in. As fast as you can but as slow as you need to. Learn to navigate the world together.

Build that house.

Call me, I can help.

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