Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
Dog Developmental Stages: What Are Fear Periods in Dogs?
Why is Rover suddenly scared of strangers? This is often a question I get from dog owners who have pretty much owned a dog who cared less about being approached by a friendly stranger and now is cowering between the owner's legs.
As I attempt to assess the situation and ask several questions, I place a strong emphasis on the dog's age. Why is that? Not many dog owners are aware of the fact that dogs tend to exhibit fearful behaviors during their critical period of developmental stages. During these distinct, critical periods, dogs may gradually become more and more fearful of situations they once appeared to be accepting of.
The fear may be manifested by overly cautious behaviors, where the puppy or dog approaches people or items tentatively or defensive behaviors involving barking/lunging/growling. In some cases, dogs may act bold towards certain stimuli and uncertain with others.
However, it is important to note that dogs can become fearful of specific things at any age, and no generalizations can be made. Let's take a look at these fear periods and see how they affect man's best friend.
First Fear Imprint Period: 5 Weeks, Then 8 to 10 Weeks
Puppies go through their very first "fear period" when they are still in the breeder's care at 5 weeks. Scott and Fuller's research has found that puppies at 5 weeks of age demonstrate a strong fear response toward loud noises and novel stimuli, however, overcome these fears through gradual introductions, and if proven non-harmful, over time, they accept them as a normal part of their lives.
Most dog owners will never witness this very first fear period considering that most puppies go to their new homes at 8 weeks, so it's worth noting that when referring to the first fear period, it's the one taking place at 8 to 10 weeks as described below.
According to Meghan E. Herron, veterinarian and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, this first fear period takes place between the ages of 8 to 10 weeks. During this time, the puppy is very sensitive to traumatic experiences, and a single scary event may be enough to traumatize the puppy and have life-long effects on his future behaviors. The fear can be of a person, dog, or object. A fear period is therefore a stage during which the puppy or dog may be more apt to perceive certain stimuli threatening.
In nature, during this time, puppies are getting out of the den and starting to explore the world around them. This is when puppies would learn under the guidance of their mom, which stimuli are threatening and non-threatening for the purpose of survival. At this stage, once they are fully mobile and outdoors, a lack of caution may cause them to get killed easily, explains Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell, in her book "For the Love of a Dog".
Coincidentally, in a domestic setting, this fear period coincides with the time most puppies are separated from their littermates and moms and are sent to new homes. Some breeders feel that their puppies are better off adopted at a later age. This is why some decide to sell puppies at 12 weeks.
During the first fear period therefore it is important to avoid exposing the puppy to traumatic experiences. Shipping the puppy or allowing the puppy to undergo elective surgeries at this time is not recommended. Veterinarian visits and car visits should be made fun and upbeat. Stimuli and experiences puppies may find frightening include but are not limited to: vaccines, cold examination tables, taking rectal temperatures, placing the puppy on the scale, nail trims, and being handled by strangers.
How to Make Things Better
- Use food to make positive associations!
- Have volunteers participate in "mock vet examinations" and use treats
- Practice giving "fake vaccinations" with a pen and use treats (for more on this read how to make dogs less fearful of shots)
- Make car rides fun!
- Have a DAP diffuser plugged in at home when you bring your puppy home for the first time.
- Make crate-training fun with toys and treats.
Second Fear Period: 6 to 14 Months
While the 8 to 12-week puppy fear period is in some cases hardly noticed by puppy owners, the second fear period appears to have a much bigger impact. Rover has grown now, and if he is a large breed, he may even weigh 100 pounds or more!
This fear period is believed to be tied to the dog's sexual maturity and growth spurts. This means that in large breeds, it may develop later compared to a smaller dog. Often, this stage is also known as "teenage flakiness," according to Ellen Dodge in her article "Critical Periods in Canine Development," published in the Weimaraner Magazine. October (1989).
In the wild, dogs at this age are allowed to go on hunts with the rest of the pack. At this stage, it is important for them to learn to stick with the pack for safety, but they also need to learn about fear since they need fear for survival purposes. The message to the puppy is to run away if something unfamiliar approaches them.
Read More From Pethelpful
Reactivity levels rise during this stage, causing the dog to act defensively, become protective and more territorial. Owners often report the fear seems to pop out of nowhere. Dogs appear fearful of novel stimuli or stimuli met before, but that did not trigger significant reactions.
As in the first fear period, it is best to avoid traumatic experiences during this time, such as shipping dogs on a plane and any other overwhelming experience.
Because at this stage the owner may be dealing with a dog barking and lunging and pulling on the leash, this fear period has a bigger impact, causing the owner to worry about the dog's behavior.
How to Make Things Better
- Continue socializing as much as possible but without exposing your dog to overwhelming situations
- Create positive associations through counter-conditioning
- Build confidence through training and confidence-building sports and exercises
- Avoid traumatic experiences during this delicate phase.
Is There a Third Fear Period?
Clarence Pfaffenberger, the author of The New Knowledge Of Dog Behavior, suggests there is a third fear period taking place in early adulthood. During this time, the level of aggression may increase, and the dog may appear more protective and territorial. Episodes of teenage flakiness may still occur. Some believe there may even be a fourth period as the dog reaches early adulthood, but I couldn't find reliable literature on that.
General Tips for Dealing With Fear Periods
These tips will come in handy to help you deal with your pampered pooch's fear periods. However, they also work for dogs who are fearful in general. While they are effective, keep in mind that your dog's tendency for being fearful may be the work of genetics rather than a temporary problem resulting from a fear stage. To learn more about how nature and nurture molds dog behavior, please read: Dog Behavior: Nature versus Nurture Debate. Following are some tips to help your puppy or dog get through these frightening fear periods:
Remain as Calm as Possible
You can lie to your boss, but when it comes to dogs, they are masters in reading our emotions and body language. If you are overly concerned or just a bit tense about your dog acting fearfully or defensively, rest assure your dog will perceive it. Don't put tension on the leash, get tense, or talk to you in a worried manner. Stay relaxed and loose.
Pretend It's No Big Deal
Your dog feeds on your emotions. Just as a mother dog would take her pups out from the den and guide the puppies through threatening and non-threatening situations, manifest to your dog that the stimuli he fears are not a big deal. Some find that saying in a casual tone "It's just a _______(fill in the blank), silly boy!" helps the dog understand it's not a big deal.
If your dog acts fearfully towards certain stimuli, you can try to change your dog's emotional response by using treats or anything the dog finds rewarding. The moment your dog sees the threatening stimulus give treats, the moment the threatening stimulus disappears, take the treats away. The same can be done with sounds the dog finds startling, make the sound become a cue that a tasty treat is coming. What if your dog won't take treats? Most likely, the stimulus is too scary, and the dog is over threshold.
Don't Overwhelm, Desensitize!
Work, under the threshold from a distance your dog or puppy does not react fearfully and is able to take treats. If you overwhelm and flood your puppy, you risk sensitizing your puppy, which means you make him more fearful. Don't force your puppy to interact with the feared stimulus; rather allow him to investigate whatever he fears on his own and remember to praise/reward any initiative your puppy or dog takes!
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize
Fear periods are part of a dog's developmental stages. The more your dog is exposed to stimuli and learns there is nothing to be scared about, the more confident he will be in the future when he will encounter anything intimidating. While the window of opportunity for the puppy socialization phase closes at around 14 to 16 weeks, socialization opportunities should virtually never end.
Don't Punish the Fear
Last but not least, avoid punishing the fear. It appears that the majority of dog aggressive displays are due to fear; therefore, by punishing the behavior, you will be only exacerbating the fear. Ignore the fear and let your dog build confidence by letting him investigate things on his own when he is ready and praising for the effort. Use force-free behavior modification such as desensitization and counterconditioning
While behaviorists have studied fear periods for some time, it is important to keep in mind that they may not occur within that exact time frame for each puppy. If your dog is going through a fear period, keep in mind that it is not the end of the world. With guidance, desensitization, and counter conditioning, your puppy or dog should recover nicely with time.
- Can You Reinforce Your Dog's Fear?
We are sometimes told not to pet, cuddle, or comfort a fearful dog because doing so may reinforce your dog's fear . . . but experts disagree. Learn whether or not you can reinforce your dog's fear.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My dog loved playing with the neighbor kids when he was 4-8 months old. Now he is so scared; shaking, growling, etc. when they are around. Our neighbor kids are not fearful of him even when he is not nice. He is about 18-months-old now. How can I socialize him around children without putting kids at risk of him barking and snapping (which hopefully will never happen..hasn't yet, but just to be sure)?
Answer: You are right to be concerned. An excellent place to start would be implementing some desensitization and counterconditioning at a safe distance. Perhaps feeding high-value treats when watching kids from behind a window at home or in the car. Then move to the yard safely behind the fence keep him leashed at a distance and keep feeding high-value treats for seeing the kids/hearing them. Afterward, for any closer "socialization" he should always be leashed and at a distance from the kids (under threshold), but because things can get risky here, you really should be working with a professional for safety and correct implementation. If you push him over the threshold, he may regress rather than improve, and things may get more challenging. The more he rehearses fearful behaviors, the more difficult to overcome. I would not expose him to very rowdy or noisy play, as it can stress him out.
Question: My 14-month old Pitbull puppy is suddenly exhibiting some fear of the vet, for no reason that I can determine. I am now worried about getting her spayed. Should she be given Valium?
Answer: It may help to take her to happy "vet visits" several times before her spay surgery. Just pop in the office and have the staff feed her treats, then go back home. Make the visit the perk of the day. If you are still concerned, inform the vet. He or she may prescribe sedatives to give before vet appointments if they're deemed necessary.
Question: How long does a dog's fear periods last?
Answer: There are really no studies or data showing how long they last precisely, but in general, it seems that they may linger for about 2-3 weeks, but can sometimes last longer if the wrong approach is taken when tackling them.
© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli
Sandra45 on September 08, 2020:
Hi Ann, I am writing out of concern for my 3 year old French Bulldog named Batman. He has always been an independent dog but loved to be petted and loved. He always showed a lot of anxiety when in the car. Especially if we droved farther from our home. My husband and I added a basset hound to our family a year and a half ago. They get along great and love to run and play together. Robin in definitely the dominant one when it comes to there relationship. We have found that Batman is becoming fearful of pretty much everything. He loves to be outside during the day but after his walk around 6.30 is terrified of being outside even when we are there with him. He cowers behind the air conditioner and shakes. He also does that at times when in the house. He will go behind an chair and shake. No coxing will get him to come out. He is also timid with his food. Some days he eats and other days he will not go near his food. It is sad to see him like this now. If Robin the basset hound makes a small growl etc. Batman runs away. Yet they sometimes lay together and groom each other. Batman also has obsessive tendencies. He will run for his frizz bee until exhaustion. He runs up and down the yard barking at every car and digs on top of this frizz bee. He is very well socialized and has been around dogs all his life with no issues. Thanks so much for reading this. Any advice would be appreciated.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 18, 2020:
Hi Ann, I would consult with a vet on this. There are some medical causes which can cause dogs to wake up startled. You can find this article helpful, but please consult with a veterinarian to rule out possible medical causes: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Help-My-Dog-is-Aggress...
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 18, 2020:
It does sound like there is the possibility of something medically going on. The waking up scared and lip smacking sounds like acid reflux or some other type of tummy trouble. In this link below, if you scroll down, you can see a video of panicky dog licking lips and acting panicky. I had a dog with acid reflux who never vomited but was scared of the reflux that woke her up at night. Sometimes, lip smacking can be a sign of partial seizures. Of course, only your vet can diagnose your dog, but just thought to point this possibility out. This reduced with antiacid meds prescribed by the vet and a medication to increase stomach motility. Your dog may have started to associate your pup with the reflux if your pup was around right when he developed reflux.
Janna Ricketts on August 17, 2020:
I have a 3 year old chihuahua and a puppy chi-pom. We got the puppy 9 months ago and although my chihuahua doesnt love the puppy, he always tolerated him. Over the last month. My chihuahua started waking up scared. He would be fine that afternoon but a few days later it would happened again. Recently he started acting afraid of the puppy. For the last two days, my chihuahua who normally relies on me for comfort will now only go near our 6 year old daughter, he cowers with tail tucked and shakes, his eyes are dilated and he is constantly smacking his lips. He is not vomiting and he continues to eat but he wont play and is no longer acting like my playful happy baby. The vet needs more information before taking him as we cannot run every test. Anyone know what this is? What can i ask the vet to test for?
Anniemae123 on June 29, 2020:
HI I would really appreciate your advise. We have a wire haired pointer, we got him from the rescue centre and have him over a year. He was badly abused nobody knew what age he was he was not house trained, neutered or any way socialised. He was scared of everything but very affectionate to us.He is still nervous of dogs but we walk him every day and he gets lots of exercise. We love him, He was very happy at home, but really for no reason I can see he started growling at me, and seems afraid of me. It started at night time when I was walking by his bed. He was asleep on the couch another time and my partner disturbed him and he snapped at him and bite him. I feel nervous when he growls at me. I would love your advise
Debbie Larvin on June 20, 2020:
Why is my staff cross labrador,, still fretting inside after 8years but outside she is not scared please
Benedict on June 20, 2020:
I need help! My six month old boerboel fears a lot...especially other dogs, i tried making him famliarize with my friends dog to make the fear stop but he always runs away whenever i take him to the dog. I am very concerned because i primarily bought the dog for security. he barks a lot any stranger who is'nt much afraid of dogs can easily become friends with him.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 15, 2020:
Hi Burgandy, this sounds like rather rough play and tug, also known as play aggression, although we cannot totally exclude true aggression unless we can have a dog behavior professional assess your pup. Please see a behavior professional for her behaviors towards children and biting. Although these reads are about German shepherds or heelers, these games can be applied to any pups of any breeds, https://hubpages.com/dogs/German-Shepherd-Puppy-Bi... https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-Stop-a-Cattle-D... Important is to catch her before she latches on.
Burgandy Niles on June 15, 2020:
Help! Afraid my 10wk old puppy could be exhibiting signs of aggression towards humans and have children. A little over a week ago , we brought an adorable puppy home. We did not have an opportunity to me the parents , but I trusted the women I spoke with. She’s a mixed breed. According to owners of parents she’s is a combo Lapponian Herder, Great Pyrenees and Border Collie. When our daughters jumped and squealed she growled for less than a moment and warmed up to them quite quickly. One week later my brother was over and she was obviously a little startled by him, as my daughter picked her up from a deep sleep and walked her over. He pet her for a moment and then asked my daughter to pass her off , to which Arwen ( puppy ) growled , whipped around like a tornado trying to bite his hands until he put her down. This shocked me because she hadn’t shown any aggression with us and “we were strangers just a week ago too”. Since then he’s been over once and she hides and growls at him. We haven’t tried to work it out anymore since then bc we don’t want to keep pushing her over her threshold during first introductions to people. Since then we’ve had instances of her showing some fear of strange people while out on the leash , but has had perfectly positive interactions with A few other friends. COVID 19 and issues with socializing was my number one hesitation for getting a puppy right now , but here we are. However , Probably one of the most concerning factors for me right now is her biting fits. Puppies bite , they mouth , they pinch. I’ve tried yelling out ,redirecting , rewarding her for not biting hands or clothes during training sessions , it just makes her more excited! Also she bites REALLY HARD! It’s almost impossible for me to sit and teach her bite inhibition at all bc she’s constantly breaking skin and bruising me. To top it off , she seems to want to bite us more than anything around her , and once she starts there’s signs that it’s turning aggressive quite quickly. No matter how playful her stance is in the beginning or how it’s starts, once she snaps and gets ahold of our legs , hands arms or clothing , her ears go back and she gets down into tug mode , and fights to get more and more into her mouth even as we cry out. It looks the same as when older dogs play vigorous games of tug of war , only it’s our body. As SOON as she gets clothing in her mouth, it turns to pulling and growling , with skin she just bites so hard she leaves little “almost“ puncture wounds or pinch marks and bruises. Even if we manage to get her on a toy she isn’t interested. She spits it out and keeps lunging at and biting us, getting more and more frustrated and Chompy when we try to block it. If we are sitting and maybe just had a training session. , seems the food and general stimulation causes her to get so riled up that it turns into what we’ve been calling a Biting frenzy , which includes ears back constant lunging especially at our faces. Couple signs of food aggression and resource guarding which is normal, but it’s starting to feel like she may have some aggression issues and I’m not sure what to do. We live in a suburban area with lots of kids and have children of our own that can’t handle her biting. Separating from her is hard too because you can’t just get up and walk away, she continues to lunge at and attach to your ankles shoes clothes an feet, I’m afraid she’s going to sink in and have to keep removing her mouth from me. She’s started grumbling when I pick her up to put her somewhere to calm down too, sometimes turning and snapping towards my face. Does this sound like concerning aggression?
Trina w on May 30, 2020:
my 3 yr old German Shepherd has started barking at everything. Including my 22 yr old son who lives here and things like a garden chair. She has had little chance to socialise as we live in the country but we do have 2 other dogs and look after 2 more. She gets incredibly excited and hyper when she knows we are going out, almost squealing with anticipation. She gets 2 long countryside walks a day plus outside time in the large garden. We work on a farm and i am home most of the day so the dogs are not left alone. They are fine in the house when we do go out though. How can i help her to not be so afraid of things/people?
jeffrey stein on March 30, 2020:
my female golden is 16 months...she loved to play out back in a field when i would toss a ball and she would fetch and bring it back....one day, she just bolted back to my home and refuses til this day to go out there.....i did not get it because we were doing this 3-4 times weekly before she suddenly became frightened at something i did not see nor hear......she also jumps up onto my car without hesitation, but i have to coax her big time to get out.....she seems fearful of other dogs at times, but not all...what on earth could of set her off and what do i do to combat it?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2020:
This is a very unusual type of behavior, makes one wonder what may trigger it. Ideas that come to mind are vibrations from the floor, poor vision (some dogs have floaters in their eyes which causes odd behaviors), perhaps some type of pain/discomfort that comes out of the blue, but it is very odd if this happens only in the training context.
Payton Lewelling on February 13, 2020:
So I have a deaf, Aussie pup. He's about to be 11 months old and he has gone through many fear phases, I believe. I've had him since he was 6 weeks old. He has always loved doing tricks, he knows 30+ different commands through sign language and he's such a smart pup. But randomly, out of nowhere he will become terrified of doing his tricks. He won't even do a basic sit without trying to run to his kennel or under the couch to hide. It takes 30-45 minutes of coaxing to get him to trust me again and start accepting treats. When I ask him to sit again, he shuts down. He avoids eye contact, refuses treats and tries to hide. I've never harshly disciplined him. And his sign for "no", which is the only sign I use when he's being naughty is nothing close to any of his trick signs. He knows the difference so I know he's not just getting confused, thinking maybe I'm mad at him for whatever reason. He's done this probably close to 8-10 times. It's always completely out of nowhere and lasts a day or so, then comes back up randomly a few weeks later. He's done this since he was 6 months old. I'm the person he trusts the most and during these periods he's so scared of me. I will get down on the ground to his level, offer him pets and treats and he still wants nothing more than to get away from me. It breaks my heart. Nothing changes every time. He just randomly does it. I've spoken with his vet and he's in perfect health, perfect diet, perfect exercise routine. She's unsure as well. I've reached out to multiple dog behavior specialists and no one knows exactly what it could be. I've gotten second and third opinions from vets as well. If anyone has any ideas, it'd be greatly appreciated. I want nothing more than for my pup to be happy.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 03, 2020:
Hi John, I have a guide on teaching reluctant/fearful dogs to jump in a car or truck. Here you can find tips:
John on February 02, 2020:
My 14 month old golden Retreiver female. Likes riding in our car but will not jump in or out she seems to fear. I have to pick her up and down. How can I train her to get in and out on her own,
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 31, 2020:
Glad to hear things are working for you. It's always good practice to do refresher sessions every now and then to keep those associations strong! Higher value treats may help make a greater impact. Glad to hear your are enlisting the help of a trainer, best wishes!
Feroz Kazi on January 21, 2020:
Thank you for your response. I actually read this article yesterday and went home and tried this technique. It actually worked. Normally when I try to touch him he runs away or makes a snapping movement towards my hand. Yesterday I was hand feeding him and while he was taking kibble off of my right hand I gently stroked him with the left hand. First he was jumping away and occasionally making a snapping movement. However, slowly he became more comfortable and was allowing me to keep my left hand on him for longer. I was making sure that I was taking the hand off once he had the kibble in his mouth so that he could associate the sequence that the hand touching him meant there was a treat coming. I am going to continue this till he becomes really comfortable with tocuhing and then try to move to picking him. I hope I can do this on my own. Although I will enroll him in a local puppy training class once all his vaccines are done.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 21, 2020:
Pain or other issues aside, it could be that your pup may benefit from a gradual, step-by-step conditioning process. This is detailed in the article below, but best to have a behavior professional guide you through the process: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Why-is-My-Dog-Growling...
Feroz Kazi on January 20, 2020:
Hi. I have a 8 week old Alaskan Malamute who is scared of being picked up. I brought him home a week ago and he was really scared at first running away even at the slightest movement towards him. That has definitely improved over the course of the week with him following me closely when he thinks I'll feed him, coming and sleeping near my feet, not running away when we are walking past him. However, he is still scared when I make a movement towards him to pick him up. Sometimes, he lays relaxed on his back in his bed when he doesnt resist being picked up but most other times he tries to run away when I approach to pick him. I hand feed him at least once a day and also try and play with him, groom him with a brush whenever he does come in my lap to give him confidence. Is this something he will grow out of or should I see a behaviorist?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 17, 2019:
Hi Carole, sounds like your dog may be struggling and often this happens is because people who approach trigger what's known as approach avoidance behaviors. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Understanding-Dog-Appr...
Carole on December 16, 2019:
I have a 4 month old Great Dane puppy who is very fearful of pretty much everything, but she is especially skittish around people when she's out of the house. I've taken her to work with me on a weekly basis since I got her, and she still barks and shies away from people she sees every week. It concerns me because I had an aggressive Dane and I really don't want to go through that again.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 02, 2019:
Julia, there can be various causes for the behavior you are seeing. It might be attention-seeking, rough play behavior that hasn't curbed since you mention this has started at 12 weeks, but it can also be anxiety, high-arousal levels. It may stem from boredom too considering you own a mix of working breeds (one for guarding livestock, the other for water rescue).
More than going to classes, I think you may benefit from a dog behavior professional who can come to your home and assess what may be exactly going on and give you several options of what you can do. Recording the behavior and showing it to the professional can be helpful too if you ever go to classes. Classes are more for teaching dogs to sit. down, etc when in reality what you likely need is behavior modification depending on the underlying cause that is triggering these attacks.
Since pushing her and saying no is only making things worse, I would suggest immediately upon noticing the first signs of her lunging dropping the leash (only if the yard is fenced), turning around and going back inside giving her a timeout.
Is there a reason why is is kept on leash in the yard? It could be the leash is causing her frustration. Pryenees are rather independent dogs who like to walk around the yard doing "perimeter checks." They are happiest on farms, but you own a mix, so some of these traits may be mellowed down.
Ideally, it is best preventing "these episodes" in the first place. Like if you know a pattern or what triggers them (being on leash in the yard) try keeping her off leash and maybe toss some treats around the yard for her to scavenge before she even thinks about attacking so that she chooses that activity rather than lunging/nipping.
If having your other dog outside as well helps distract her, then take him out too. Maybe she needs to burn some steam and playing with him (or at least trying to engage him) will help her redirect her high energy needs on him rather than on you.
Just a few ideas, but I highly recommend having a professional come assess your dog first before trying for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification.
Julia Egan on December 01, 2019:
I have a 8mth old Newfoundland/Great Pyrenees mix. She is a rescue from a farm. My husband and I don't know what to do when she snarls,bites and jumps on us suddenly. At first I thought she just playing rough. But as time goes on it is very aggressive. Is this fear of us? We take her out on a leash or in the back yard, she appears to be fine. Then all the sudden she turns starts lunging, jumping, snarling, biting us. Our first reaction is to tell her No! In a stern voice and push her off of us. But she gets worse. What is causing this? She has done this since she was 12wks when we got her. We have a 6yrs old male Great Pyrenees, he doesn't have a lot to do with her as far as play. She wants to play with him. What can we do about the aggressive behavior?
She has been to a puppy behaviorist class. But she doesn't exhibit these behaviors in class. Please help.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 25, 2019:
If you can determine what noises frighten her, this article can be helpful to you: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Dog-Noise-Sensitivity-...
Leah2019 on November 19, 2019:
Hi. Im first time here. I have 4 months old rat jack russell terrier puppy. She is afraid from everything where is noise . Also she is afraid from outside for bathroom but she didnt bathroom from outside but she did it in the house ( on the training pads and old newspaper). Will you help me out? I always be patience with my dog.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 20, 2019:
Sounds like a plan! Keep me posted.
Giovanniv on August 19, 2019:
Thank you so much Adrienne. all great tips and will use them all,...i'll post again in a week or 2 with an update and any questions.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 19, 2019:
Giovanniv, another idea that comes to mind is to gradually "buffer" the absence of the kids. In other words, try training when the kids are in sight but at a distance, then out of sight but where the dog can still hear them, then when the kids are in another room, then with the kids in the yard. Work at your dog's comfort level. If he can't focus, that means he's over threshold and therefore you need to take a step back, until he's comfortable at that level enough to progress. Use super yummy treats and end training on a positive note with a jack pot of treats (several treats tossed on the floor for your pup to search).
Giovanniv on August 18, 2019:
Thanks. He is better around me in general, however when alone immediately the fear kicks in, Goes to bed and its a struggle to get him out..i really hope he gets past it as i really struggle with the training now as i usually train when kids arn't around...
Giovanniv on August 16, 2019:
Hi all, have a little 5 month old toy cavoodle. he has been a joy to raise this far.
However a couple weeks back, i was playing with the little guy chasing around the yard, in doing this i accidentally ran into him giving him a big whack. really frightened and immediately scared and standoffish.
feeling sorry for the pooch i then proceeded to take him with me to pick up the children from school, seemed really scared and noticeably submissive.
Ever since whenever he is home alone with me or in the car, he is scared, shakes and submissive. a huge change to what he previously was with me.
Understand i am the "trainer, disciplinary, master so to speak so possibly some emotion there, however from that point the relationship is hugely different, just scared and submissive.
Is this something that i can rectify by rewards when in this same situations, will it improve, what is the best course of action..
Thanks in advance.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 15, 2019:
Lolandina, fear can be genetic, studies have shown that if the mother is stressed during pregnancy the puppies will perceive the stress in utero and will be born with more "jumpy" attitudes. This is an adaptive precaution if we think of it, as if the mom was stressed, it means her environment may not be safe and the pups will need to extra vigilant. In any case, often a good nurturing environment may remedy some genetic predispositions towards fear up to a certain extent.
If your puppy was normal until now, it could very likely be he is going through a difficult time. You may find this read helpful:
I hope it's just a phase and you pup will go to enjoying walks eventually. Baby steps!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 15, 2019:
Giovanniv, when dogs (or other animals) learn to fear from one single event, it is know as "single event learning." This has quite an adaptive edge in animals in the wild (think what would happen to zebras as a species in the event a lion leaping from behind a bush wouldn't have any impact on them), however, the fear becomes maladaptive when we think that we are a dog's primary provider and caretaker with no intent to harm.
In such cases, other than being really careful not to trip over the pup again, all we can do is create positive associations so the dog learns to trust again. So something that may help is when you are walking to toss tasty morsels on the floor being very careful and to feed him and play with him with irresistible toys etc but being very quiet and making very small movements so not to frighten him. Use high value treats and lots of praise for all the baby steps of progress he makes.
Giovanniv on August 15, 2019:
Hi all, Help please.
So i have a 5 month old toy Cavoodle. have been very pedantic about training, positive reinforcement for correct behavior and patience. pupp has been very good, obedient, playful and positive.
However a couple weeks back (about 17weeks old) whilst i was playing in the yard chasing each other, i accidentally ran into him and gave him a good whack. ever since whenever we are left at home alone (wife and kids gone, which is the same situation) he becomes very submissive, and shakes around me..if i continue to make sure these experiences are positive and zero risk of a repeat, can i expect him do get past this? worst part is, that same day he was so demure that i took home with me to pick up the kids from school and now seems to shake and have the same fear...really hope i can overcome as i am primary trainer/carer
Iolandina on May 01, 2019:
I'm quite unsure of what to do about my puppy.
He is 5 and a half months old Boxer. I broth him home at 18 Weeks old and the last 2 months or so, he is scared of the outside world. I am not awaere of anny traumatik experiance that he may have had. When we go on walk in the woods, in nature he behaves normally, but around buildings, bicycles, cars, sometimes People, (or anything else that is on the street) he gets scared and just wants to run. I try to reassure him that everything is OK and not to baby him over it, I tried treats and different kind of leashes, nothing works. He does not like to go out on walks, he does not show any (positive) emotion wen it's time to go out, sometimes he just stops on the top of the stares and wants to go back inside.
There are days when he goes outside and after a minute he just gets scared and just wants to run back inside (…while still peeing !!), on those days a normal walk is impossible, all he wants is go back home , es if someone would wanna kill him, at those times he does not react to treats or anything else.
We started going out with him to up to 15 times a day, now around 6 times, 3 from them are long walks. I teach the Puppy discipline and exercise daily, I take him to socialize with other dogs and people, go to a dog club but also give affection wen he deserves it.
He is able to go for a walk in a pack with other dogs, with our older Golden Retriever or solo, he can ride in the car. Inside he is relaxed, he is friendly with other people or Dogs.
The breeder says it is a fear period and it will go away, I never experienced it at any of my dogs. I have to add the puppy also has a retained testicle. When I got him, the breeder told me the other testicle will fall into place soon ...it did not... I was planning to go with this puppy on Dog Shows…but that plan is cancelled. Then I thought OK, I can do IPO (Internationale Prüfungs-Ordnung) with my Boxer. IPO is a three part Dog sport which includes Tracking, Obedience and Protection phases, but if he will stay this scarred …that won't be possible either. It also crossed my mind: what if this behavior is genetically inharited and not just a phase …is it possible?
My english isn’t my first language, so please excuse any mistakes.
Please give me your insight. Thank you!
Andrea Troxtell on April 09, 2019:
I have a dog that is 19 months old. I have socialized him at dog parks, taken him out around people and he's always been fine. Recently, he's seemed to sniff people and then bark at them and he also doesn't seem to care to play with other dogs. How do I re socialize him to where he isn't barking at people?
Jenn on March 27, 2019:
I have a four month Cane Corso she’s very playful but very shy when it comes to people . As of this past week she has started running up to strangers on our walks just to bark once and then runs immediately back to me to hide behind my legs . I’m not sure if she’s scared or what . Not sure how to stop her from barking at people. She won’t let strangers touch her unless she sees that my 3 year old am staff is allowing them to pet him.
Diane on October 13, 2018:
My lab is 7 and suddenly has become nippy. How do I break this habit that recently formed?
Brittany on October 06, 2018:
Please someone help my Great Dane puppy is 13-14 weeks old he is fabulous minds well is protective of me and my two kids but he hates my husband he bit him last night and drew blood my husband says it’s up to me since I’m crazy about him I don’t have to rehome him but I can’t have a dog that bites around my children can anyone help me with this ?
Fiona Johnston on September 25, 2018:
Why is my yorkie suddenly scared and bearing her teeth to my daughters 2 yr old mini schnauzer who is a gentle boy when he comes to visit. They are walked daily by a dog walker and no problems, its just when he visits her home. Please advise
Mike on March 29, 2018:
I rescued two puppies 8 months ago. They were both very traumatized and I dont know what theyve been through. One of them is particularly more traumatized than the other. I have worked with her all these months and she allows me to pet her even though she still shies away when I approach her with food or move suddenly. Yesterday she got outside the gate and wouldn't come in and stayed outside the gate the whole night. She stayed out all night refusing to come inside. I eventually caught her at noon after being outside since 5pm yesterday. She is now even more skittish and frightened of me than before. I am at a total loss of what to do.
Diane on March 20, 2018:
My dog loved playing with the neighbor kids when he was 4-8 months old. Now he is so scared, shakes, growls, etc. when they are around. Our neighbor kids are not fearful of him even when he is not being nice. He is about 18 months now. How can I socialize him around children without putting kids at risk of him barking and snapping (which hopefully will never happen..hasn't yet, but just to be sure)?
Barb on February 07, 2018:
My husband and i purchased our pup when she was 5 months old. She is terrified of my Husband. She runs to me and is great with me, however when my husband opens the door to come or go outside, she wont come in, and she runs away when he enters the room. This has been her attitude since we brought her home. Help suggestions please.
Lisa McClelland on January 30, 2018:
I work in rescue. A foster puppy of mine from 2 years ago was just returned to me. The dog is afraid of everyone and everything. The people who adopted her boarded her at 6 months for two weeks and her shyness turned into full blow fear of everything. They no longer wanted to deal with her. It has been 4 months that I have been fostering her now at 2 years old. She is pretty good with me, and after 2 months would come to me on her own and started using the dog door to go out with another dog to go potty. Before that I had to keep a harness and leash on her in a fenced yard to go outside potty. She was so afraid of everything she wanted to just hide in the bushes or try to go under the deck. She did not eat any food for over a week other then a bite here or there and lost 6 pounds. She is now on Prozac and that has helped a lot after three weeks of taking it. She is able to go for a walk with the pack here, but not solo, she can not ride in the car with out trembling severely, and she is unable to meet anyone new. I have been doing counter conditioning with her, but most time she is unable to take a treat. My question is what is your feeling about adopting this dog to a home. I am her foster right now. She is still very skittish at my house with the people in my home. She loves my dogs and will play like a normal dog when it is just me at home. I truly fear adopting her out, that it will traumatize her more, she may flee and never be caught, and the adopters not following my directions or keeping her on her meds. Please give me your insight. Thanks
johni on October 24, 2017:
you are right to think
this sounds good to me as well - despite the fact that Laddie is a year and a half I think this is precisely what he is experiencing. I didn't get him from my raiser until near 5 months so I thin his socialization and improvement are somewhat behind and he has dependably been somewhat modest. I spent his initial summer taking him wherever - puppy fairs, canine parks, strolls, and so forth and he appeared to leave his shell. Be that as it may, this end of the week, he was frightful once more. So we will take gradually until the point when he winds up noticeably balanced once more
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 25, 2017:
Jennifer, it good to have her meet at her own terms, but be careful if she has a history of growling/nipping. If people stretch their hands out to pet her, she may startle and try to nip. The safest option is to have a professional guide you through behavior modification. It's best to nip this in the bud if it's a new behavior before it puts roots.
Jennifer Van from Wisconsin on September 20, 2017:
Thank You for the information. I have a 9 month old blue nowe pit she is so loveable to our family but gets growly and nips if others try to pet her. I tell them to let her come to them I hope I am doing the right things. Thank you for the information!
Daniel on August 05, 2017:
Well done to all the dog breaders! You have taken the wolf and left us with only fear! All I read is that dogs are afraid of everything.
Danielle on July 21, 2017:
I have a pitbull that I've had since she was 6 weeks old and is now 4 years old and acts afraid of me since day one I have never hit her or had crazy yelling around her. When I call her name she runs to her kennel unless I say let's go to bed or go potty so I am very concerned why is she is still like this after many years
Laddies Mom on July 05, 2017:
this makes a lot of sense to me too--even though Laddie is 18 months I think this is exactly what he is going through. I didn't get him from my breeder until close to 5 months so I thin his socialization and development are a bit behind and he has always been a bit shy. I spent his first summer taking him everywhere--dog fairs, dog parks, walks, etc. and he seemed to come out of his shell. But this weekend, he was fearful again. So we will take slowly until he becomes adjusted again.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 07, 2017:
The soccer games can be too overwhelming for her. There's lot of noise, people cheering and this is too overstimulating and sets her on edge. She is likely feeling threatened and is asking for space. You can try to sit in an area where there are less noises and commotion if that's feasible. If people are coming close, you can try feeding her a high-value treat every time a person comes near and ask the person to please not interact with her. If you do this often enough, she may learn to predict that people coming close =treat. But you really need to be her advocate, and not let people come too close or she'll be over threshold and react. If your dog still seems stressed or doesn't take treats, I would skip the soccer games for now and try doing this exercise in a quieter place like a park and feed treats every time somebody walks by. Even best, have a trainer help you out and enlist the help of volunteers that can help your pup form good associations between people walking nearby and treats. Best wishes!
Melissa on April 29, 2017:
This article is very helpful, but I'm still quite unsure of what to do about my puppy. She is 8 and a half months old, and scared of people and kids. I try to reassure her that she's ok and not to baby her over it. We have started taking her to my daughter's soccer games to help socialize her, but when we get there she shakes terribly, and then she growls when anyone gets close to us. I have my husband tell people she's in training and not to come pet her, but when someone, even kids come close, she growls and barks. I'm not sure if I should keep taking her to the games or stop taking her? I just don't know. She also gets scared at home of people visiting, but she doesn't act aggressive at home like at the soccer field, she's just scared at home. Once we tell people to not come near her, let her come up to them, she usually comes over after several minutes, and she's fine after that. I'm really worried this isn't a stage. My puppy is a golden lab that we got from someone who had to get rid of her at 3 months, so we don't know if something happened to her before us. Thank you for the article. It's very informative.
Margie on April 18, 2017:
Thank you for this helpful information! Our puppy is almost 7 months old and is suddenly afraid of many things she didn't used to pay any attention to. How long does this phase usually last?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 09, 2017:
You're welcome Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by.
Elizabeth on April 07, 2017:
I read this, as I'm anticipating I may bring another Baby into the Family. I'm reading up on things I've never known about in 40 odd years of living with Dogs. Very interesting article, thank you.
Jill on October 31, 2016:
Be very aware of this stage in a dogs life. I was walking my dog through a wooded area near my home and someone came up on a bike. My dog was off lead at the time and we were away from the main road. I just carried on and acted as usual encouraging her to go past the people on the bike. The result was that she about turned and ignored me running back through the woods and across the road ..... she was knocked down and is now recovering from a broken leg. She has never reacted to bikes in this way before and has met many on our previous walks (She is 12 months old) which is why I wasn't too concerned when we encountered these bikes. My only conclusion is that it was the helmets they were wearing. Thankfully she wasn't killed ...... but we are now on the path of recovery and, when she is well, will reintroduce bikes and helmets in the hope that, once again, we can resume our walks through the woods.
Fran on October 22, 2016:
My puppy is 13 weeks, unfortunately there wasn't a puppy class near me running until a week away, and today when walking he met another dog, and even though the dog didn't com near him or acknowledge him he cried and panicked, low to the ground tail between his legs. I'm really worried that I've missed the chance to get him used to other dogs
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 06, 2016:
Often fear in older dogs is due to reduced senses, like not seeing or hearing well as before, but could also be something happened outside that scared him.
Christine on June 05, 2016:
What about a 13 year old dog that is suddenly afraid to go outside...front or backyard?...i don't know what to do...we even stand with him!
Marti on May 17, 2016:
Thank you for the science behind this phenomenon. I was concerned that there was something real that was threating to the puppy as she is now afraid to come in the house. She has been the most enthusiastic pup - happy about everything and everyone. I hope her happiness returns soon!
Cindy Schmidt on December 26, 2015:
Thank you for this article. I have an 8 mos choc lab puppy dog. I got her at 8 wks. She was socialized quickly and now she is so fearful of everything that she's not familiar with. She loves people, and pets. But everything else she's so skiddish. I'm working to reinforce everything positive. I try to stay calm, if she is really overwhelmed, I remove her or whatever is the problem and make no big deal of it. This is my 3rd choc lab, and this is the first time I've encountered this behavior. She had absolutely no aggression in her. She is so gentle.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 16, 2015:
Thanks, this helped me when my dog was younger and undergoing a fear period.
Vicki Green from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA on March 16, 2015:
Some interesting research and useful suggestions to help make your dog less fearful.
Ash Ryan from Red Dirt Country on October 15, 2014:
I never knew this was a thing! I have an 8 week old Boston Terrier (along with a 2 year old Boston, also) ...most things she's totally comfortable and then all of a sudden with those same things she seems to become easily frightened. Poor baby! Now it makes so much more sense. :) Great read!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 15, 2012:
Arf, thanks for stopping by. My male went through this as well. Confidence building exercises can be helpful and so is counterconditioning best wishes!
Allison on November 15, 2012:
This makes so much sense. My puppy is 9 months old right now and is scared of everything - the broom, the umbrella, big trucks. I try not to make a big deal about it, but it's good to know that she will probably grow out of it soon. Thanks for a very informative hub!