Puppy Training Basics: Handling Fear Imprint Periods

Puppy Training Basics

As a part of puppy training, it is important to recognize and understand your pet’s fear imprint periods, sometimes called fear stages or simply fear periods.

Although these phases are a normal part of your pet’s development, fear imprint stages must be handled with care. Otherwise, he may develop patterns of behavior that are challenging to overcome later in life.

What Are Fear Imprint Periods?

Just as human children do, puppies go through a number of distinct, developmental phases between birth and full maturity, or about two years of age.

During these stages, puppies undergo significant physical, cognitive and emotional changes. At two distinct stages of development, puppies become much more likely to perceive external stimuli as a threat. If the pup has an experience during this time that is particularly frightening to him, that fear may become imprinted for life.

Because a dog’s stages of development have been genetically programmed long before canines were domesticated, these responses can be traced to their time in the wild. Fear imprint periods were survival mechanisms, triggered by the milestones where they faced the greatest danger from predators and external threats.

When Do Puppy Fear Periods Occur?

Developmental stages vary among different dog breeds. The smaller the dog, the more quickly they pass through developmental stages. However, we can generalize a range of time, during which most puppies experience these patterns.

The first fear imprint period occurs at approximately eight to ten weeks of age. In the wild, this would have been the time when the pups first ventured outside the safety of their pack’s den. Today, this is also about the time that puppies leave their littermates and mother, and go to their forever homes. This initial fear stage is typically easy to observe and identify.

The second fear period takes place between the ages of six and 14 months. This is the stage during which wild dogs would learn to hunt. This fear stage may be harder to recognize, and it is also the one that has the most potential for damage.

Watch for your dog to potentially become territorial or defensive, or to suddenly develop a fear of people or experiences he was previously comfortable with.

Can Puppy Training Influence Fear Imprint Periods?

In our role as professional dog trainers, we suggest that you protect your puppy as much as possible from traumatic experiences. We also strongly recommend that you seek out professional puppy training during these fear stages.

Puppy training is a highly effective way to provide your dog with the ongoing socialization he needs, but that you may be unable or unwilling to provide. But, more important, professional dog trainers can apply techniques for building confidence and counteracting the natural inclination to develop fearful behavior.

And, if your dog has begun to exhibit undesirable behaviors as a result of a fear imprint, it’s crucial that we address it and provide counter-conditioning as soon as possible.

Because many pet owners aren’t aware of the fear imprint periods, they sometimes panic that their dog is “broken” or has uncorrectable behavior problems. In most cases, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Innovative K9 Academy of Salt Lake City, Utah, understands how challenging the stages of puppy development can be, especially for new pet parents. Contact us today to discuss your concerns. We will be happy to help you get to the bottom of your pet’s unfamiliar or concerning behaviors.

Trust the experienced professionals of Innovative K9 Academy to assist with all of your dog and puppy training needs.