It is essential to continue socialising your young adult dog very extensively. Around puberty in dogs which is when their hormones change at around 7 months onwards, dogs go through what is known as a secondary fear stage. This is often displayed as fearful behaviour towards things or sometimes people that they have never reacted to before. The fear may show itself as avoidance behaviour ? i.e. they look scared but try to avoid the object or person, or it may show itself as a nervous aggressive response whereby the dog thinks if it barks at the object it will make it go away.
When my young male dog Jake was a puppy I used to take him to a local garden centre for environmental socialisation. They used to have a large brass coloured ornamental pig outside the entrance. Jake had walked past this pig with no reaction several times as a young puppy and then suddenly one day he decided it was the scariest thing he had ever seen. He growled and barked at it and darted at it then cowered away ? it was actually very amusing to watch although not from Jake?s point of view, he was genuinely terrified. How did I deal with it? I just stood there and waited until he had calmed down ? as the pig didn?t react Jake got braver and eventually crawled on his tummy towards it until he was able to give it a sniff and realise it wasn?t going to hurt him. I can honestly say he looked embarrassed at that point!
How you deal with a dog who becomes reactive towards familiar things is extremely important. It is human nature to want to comfort out dogs when they appear fearful but this is extremely dangerous. If we give the dogs attention or stroke them when they are being fearful, then we are effectively reinforcing it ? giving them the impression it is the correct way to act. This makes the behaviour much more likely to be repeated. So although it appears unsympathetic, it is best to completely ignore your dog?s fearful reaction and once they have recovered and are acting normally again then give them lots of praise and attention. As it is the ?brave? behaviour which gets reinforced this becomes the behaviour they are most likely to repeat in the future.
Continued environmental socialisation and exposure to all types of people and dogs at this age is critical. Take your dogs to lots of new environments such as markets, town centres or car boot sales etc. Make sure you don?t just stick to familiar walks, be adventurous. You will end up with a dog that you can take anywhere with you if you put in this work now.
If you have any concerns about your dogs behaviour please do not hesitate to get in touch and we will help you or recommend a 1-2-1 lesson.