We try and keep our dogs safe and do everything to stave away scary and unfortunate events. You can’t and should not raise your puppy in a bubble. However there are times when you might want to be extra cautious. Those times are when your puppy is going through natural fear periods.
I am particularly interested in the subject at the moment since my current puppy Snorri is clearly going through a fear period now.
The unfortunate events that happen can be anything from your dog getting growled at or attacked by another dog, some weirdo approaching your dog in a way that scares him or a piece of debris falls or tips over and makes a loud bang. These kinds of things will happen and really are practically unavoidable and luckily in most cases your pup can overcome the experience with a bit of counter conditioning. However, if your dog is in the vulnerable stage of a fear period there is an increased possibility that they experience something called “a single event learning experience”
Fear periods generally happen at two separate intervals as your puppy grows; one predictably at around 8-10 weeks of age, and a second more variably in late adolescence (6 – 24 months). A fear period is essentially a time when your pup is extremely sensitive to bad experiences. A single frightening or painful experience can have a lasting impact on your dog’s behavior.
This article describes fear periods and single event learning along with examples of what can happen:
If you find that your puppy is all of a sudden afraid of things he was not at all bothered about before, please pay attention to that. Fear is not a rational response. Fear needs to be supported. Try to help your dog remain in a state of mind where he can still think and accept his favorite treats. Under no circumstances should you “flood” your dog, meaning that you force him through the scary event. That’s like throwing someone out of a plane to help him overcome his fear of heights.
Lastly, please be aware of the fact that sometimes the trigger event can leave permanent scars even with the best efforts and the most skillful training techniques.