Fear Periods – Are they Real?

Fear periods are the idea of short periods in a developing puppy’s life where they have an increased level of fear.  These periods may be a couple of hours to a couple of weeks long.  The concept implies that fearful or reactive behaviours in this window will disappear once the fear period is over.  Many people attribute new fearful or reactive behaviours to fear periods. Often these are noticed around 4 months but sometimes up to 18 months.

This brush off of reactive tendencies has always concerned me.  A behaviour that is repeated more than a couple of times is becoming a learned behaviour.  Learned behaviours do not just go away on their own.  There is no science behind the concept of fear periods.

So, what do we know?

We know that between the prenatal stage through to the end of adolescences, the developing brain is more susceptible to stress.  These life stages are crucial and we want to be mindful of what stressors our puppies are exposed to during this time.

What can you do?

Ensure chronic, toxic stress is avoided and plenty of positive experiences with new things. Remember, your puppy decides what is positive. Some pups will love playdates with the neighbour lab whereas another puppy will be overwhelmed and anxious.

Take the time to understand canine body language (if you are not sure, ask a certified trainer for help). Create positive novel experiences for your puppy. If your dog is showing reactive tendencies more than a handful of times, that is a sign that they are not adapting to stress in a normal way. We want to take action on this versus hoping it will go away due to a ‘fear period’. It is much easier to influence the emotions of a dog when their brain is still developing versus waiting until they have matured.

Is your adolescent becoming fearful or reactive? Reach out to a Certified Behaviour Consultant for help.