You have this wonderful little bundle of love, and he’s so perfect, and you love him to distraction. But he’s afraid of a lot of things. What are you going to do?
The first thing you have to do is think about how he’s feeling. I mean, how would you feel? You’ve just been taken away from everything you’ve ever known, and brought to a place that is totally unfamiliar. Your mom isn’t there, nothing looks right, and what the heck are you supposed to do?
Here’s the thing – it’s normal for a puppy to be scared. He’s usually only about eight weeks old, and for two of those weeks, he couldn’t even see. Once he opened his eyes, everything was new to him. Remember how you felt the first time you saw snow? It must feel something like that to a puppy every single day for at least the first couple of months. And of course some of those new things are going to be perceived as scary. So, how do you help a frightened puppy?
Every puppy is different. Some are supremely confident, and very adventurous. Others might seem to be afraid of just about anything to begin with. You’re going to have to watch for temperament, and see how your special little one reacts to things.
Signs that your puppy is afraid include panting, shaking, cowering, whining, hiding and freezing. Any of these symptoms can be a puppy’s way of telling you that he is afraid.
A lot of the time, puppies will be nervous if you leave them alone. Sometimes, they might even get hysterical. This is separation anxiety, and it is happens in about 12% of dogs. It’s most common in puppies that come from puppy mills.
Puppies are most commonly scared by loud noises, yelling, thunder, fireworks, traffic, and vacuum cleaners. Most of these things are not inherently dangerous, but puppies don’t know that. Think about how you feel when you hear a loud noise – you probably jump, don’t you? Puppies react in the same startled manner. So, your job is to show the puppy that there is nothing to be afraid of. Try to resist the temptation to soothe – if you seem confident and upbeat, then he’ll soon get the idea that there is nothing to fear. Sing or laugh while you vacuum!
Remember, dogs like to have a routine. They want regular meals, regular naps, regular play times, regular walks and so on. If your puppy has a regular routine, it will go a long way to keep him calm, and things that happen outside that routine will probably be far less problematic.
What I’m trying to say here is, dial back the kids. Remember that your puppy is very young, and not used to a whole lot of ruckus in the home. Tell the kids to settle down. If there’s a lot of running around, stress and squabbling, then you are going to end up with a stressed, nervous puppy.
Kids should be encouraged to walk slowly, use “indoor voices,” not squeal or scream, and generally act like responsible human beings. This will very much ease the stress on your puppy and make him less fearful.
Make sure that your puppy is exposed to new people regularly. The more he meets new people, the more comfortable he will be with them.
If your puppy is scared, it is probably because he does not feel confident. You want to make sure that he sees other people, and that every time he reacts well to other people, he is rewarded. When he makes a new friend, give him a treat. You can’t start socializing too soon – as soon as your baby has had his shots, start taking him out around other people and dogs. You might also enroll him in obedience classes. It’s a great way to build confidence and improve socialization.
Remember that puppies have a very short attention span, so make the training sessions short. A well-trained puppy is very seldom a fearful puppy. If you make the training sessions enjoyable, then chances are that any fear your puppy might have had will dissipate quickly, and you will end up with a well-adjusted dog.
Remember always that training should be based in rewards, not punishment. You never want your puppy to think that he has been bad, or that you are disappointed with him. He should always feel that he is the most special puppy in the whole world.
For an in-depth discussion on training, read my article, Dog Training Made Easy.
It is very rare that a puppy will fail to respond to good training. However, if he snarls and snaps at every person he passes who’s wearing a hat, or at the neighbor’s toddler who’s running and squealing, then you have a real problem with potentially tragic consequences.
A very fearful puppy could cause you a lot of trouble down the road if he is not quickly trained and socialized.
If your puppy is extremely fearful, you might consider a calming shirt like the Barkertime Dog Calming Shirt–It is also what is known as a “thunder shirt,” because it keeps dogs and puppies calm in stressful situations, like thunder storms. Of course, thunder is not the only thing that scares dogs, and this shirt holds them close while they are in stressful situations. You can get one for $29.99 at Amazon, and shipping is free. It comes in various sizes, and can help your dog to feel better when afraid, over-excited, or otherwise anxious. It essentially swaddles the dog, makes him feel as though he is being held, and helps keep him calm. The fabric is breathable and machine-washable, and you can get it in pretty prints, too.
It is no fun for a dog to be afraid or stressed, so work on confidence-building and stress reduction. If you feel that you need a little more help, then a thunder shirt can work wonders.