A few months ago I noticed unusual behavior in my 10-month-old puppy, Sonar. During the months since we adopted her, I’d come to associate fetch as her game of choice. She would hop hop hop after anything. However, one morning I picked up her favorite rope and, as usual, I lifted it over my head to execute a perfect throw. I was so happy to realize the rope avoided all breakables and bothersome walls that it took me a second to realize my white ball of energy didn’t follow my Drew Brees-like toss. I looked back to see her behind the coffee table, head down, eyes avoiding mine, and tail tucked. Flabbergasted, I ran and got the rope and shoved it in her face believing she had my intentions totally wrong. When she retreated father away from me, I knew to fold ‘em. I put the toy away and gave her space.
Puppies, like human babies, are developing rapidly and the consequence of such rapid development is seemingly inexplicable changes in behavior. Sonar was experiencing her Second Fear Impact Period. The First Fear Impact Period occurs with puppies 8 to 11 weeks. The Second Fear Impact Period affects adolescent puppies between 6 to 14 months.
Warning signs a puppy is entering their Second Fear Impact Period manifest in sudden changes in behavior. As seen in Sonar, she had a sudden unwillingness to engage in a once previously loved behavior. Other dogs will show fear towards people they know and/or reluctance to engage new people and events. Dogs typically display fear by any or all of the following: running away, dropping their head, avoiding eye contact, arching their back, and tucking their tail.
With time and patience, puppies will grow out of this period. In the two months since she cowered during fetch, Sonar has regained all her puppy confidence. We didn’t play fetch for a while after her fear display and then once we started again, I tossed any toy underhand watching for progression or regression in her behavior displays. Today, I am back to practicing my perfect over handed throw and she is even hopping over pillow barricades I put up to increase her challenge.
Witnessing Sonar’s fear period has given me a greater appreciation for what we, as dog owners, force upon our pups. While humans may find nothing scary about a toy (or children or the mailman or a change in location of the furniture), we have to respect our dog’s perspective on their world and recognize what is fearful to them. Now every time I throw the ball and Sonar chases it without hesitation, I feel a touch of pride in her confidence.