Puppies go through two fear phases in their lives. One is around 8-12 weeks and the other is around 6-14 months. So if your puppy is suddenly afraid of men wearing hats or barks like crazy and hides under the table when the doorbell rings- they could be going through a fear phase. Some dog actions are apparent like barking, growling, or cowering but some may not be- like licking their lips or yawning- so pay attention!
The first fear phase will start around the same time they come home so that can make it tricky to create a safe, positive environment while also introducing them to their new family and home. It is very important when you bring your puppy home that you give them plenty of time to adjust to their new home and family members- human and animal. Be very patient. The first few weeks should be quiet. Always let your puppy choose to interact with you. Never force them. Please don't scold them for doing something they shouldn't be-they are very much still babies and will need time to learn. Positive reinforcement and lots of treats only! Let them take baby steps if they seem to be anxious or fearful of something. If something or someone is causing anxiety or fear create mini sessions to desensitize your puppy in a safe, positive and controlled way.
The second fear phase the age can vary quite a bit. Your dog may suddenly be afraid of loud sounds, cower around men, bark at strangers, etc. You may get frustrated because it seems like they forgot all their training and socialization- but be patient! Let them take their time studying the object or person, never force them towards it or make them interact with it.
Its really important to pay attention to their behavior during a fear phase because if they have a negative experience it can impact them for the rest of their lives. You will need to re-introduce them to whatever is causing them anxiety or fear in a positive and controlled way- just like you did when it was brand new to them. Let them choose whether or not to engage in whatever it is. Lots of positive reinforcement and treats! It could take a day or even a week. Let them go at their own pace. Do small sessions and always end on a positive note.
If you suspect your pup is experiencing a fear period, here are a few do’s and don’ts:
Allow him to explore the world at his own pace.
Comfort your puppy when he is feeling scared or anxious.
Pair scary situations, noises, people or objects with treats. This will help him to make positive associations.
Build his confidence through training using positive reinforcement.
Avoid what could become a traumatic experience during fear phases. Consider staying away from dog parks or busy streets where there is more potential for a bad experience to occur.
Make a big deal when he reacts unfavorably.
Punish your puppy for barking, or growling.
Push him into uncomfortable situations, such as forcing him to accept being handled, walked, or to interact with strangers.
Ignore him when he is seeking you out for comfort- this may include a lot of licking!
Get frustrated. It’s ok!
Over-expose him to frightening stimuli.
AKC has a great article of fear phases and they are tons of resources online. I encourage you to read up on it so you can be prepared for when it happens to ensure your pup will come through with flying colors!