When Fear Happens…
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So things are going along really well when something that has never been an issue suddenly spooks your pup. You are freaked and wonder what has happened.
Many behavior experts subscribe to the theory of “Fear periods” or times of “Fear Imprinting”. In truth fearful things can happen throughout a young dog’s life. Those who subscribe to the fear mantra will say that the first development phase where “Fear Imprinting” happens is between 8 and 12 weeks of age.
Regardless of whether “Fear Imprinting” is true and if so an exact science, this is not the time to set your pup up for failure. This is the time to be building upon the breeder’s foundation. Carefully exposing them to controlled situations is the wise approach. The socialization process needs to move forward and getting others involved is important.
Much of what happens with your pup is written in genetic code. Other factors are influenced and set into motion during the first 7 weeks of a pups life. The breeder, the litter-mates, and their Mom are in truth imprinting the pup too. Finally the pup comes home, and you begin the process of incorporating them into your family and lifestyle.
At this transitional juncture there are many factors to juggle. The primary of these factors being preparation for their ever unfolding world. Their world continues to grow in size and diversity. There are more people, animals, places, and situations than a pup imagines. They only know what they have experienced. Carefully orchestrating protected and planned experiences in new and varied settings makes sense. The pup will grow even confident in the changes and new stimulus being added to their lives. If, however, you don’t plan for them to expand their horizon some may be overwhelmed. Others may feel threatened and develop fears to each new thing. As with children, the indefinite greenhouse theory doesn’t work. Exposing them to the world in small doses allows them to get their footing and feel in charge of the ground under them. As long as they are not lording this new found freedom and insight over their alpha human it is a good thing.
With each new situation it is wise to move forward and to make sure they encounter a good experience. For example, if you do not have children and you are going to work on getting them used to children start small. The first visit might be a neighborhood child or small group of children. Then move up with other children. Finally, attend a local soccer game and sit in the chair with your pup attached. Let your Weimaraner pup find out the adoring hordes are wonderful.
We don’t recommend the local dog park for initial outside dog socialization. Stage some “doggie” events right along with human meet-ups. It is a good idea to introduce them to children and other dogs in a neutral territory. Neutral meaning away from their home turf. Try doing something that is easily controllable and fun. Remember positive imprinting happens too! These mini-meet-ups are very important.
Here is something that might work for any number of you not having children or other pets. Engage the neighborhood children to help you with this socialization activity. Possibly move to the front yard away from their fenced backyard turf. Ask one or two of the local younger children to drop by casually to meet your newest family member. Have one of the children help you pat your pup gently on the back, rub their tummy, pet their face, stroke their ears, and even touch their tail. By letting the pup experience touching outside their little world they learn that it can be safe. They might even learn to enjoy it. If they bring along a dog at one of these planned meet-ups then let the dogs sniff each other and see how it goes. Don’t over react but also don’t let things go sour. These meet-ups are very important. If possible involve children of different ages (heights and disposition–such as louder and quieter types). Also include various types and sizes of dogs. Often a Weim will be selective about who they like and which ones they will not tolerate. This might require intervention.
One more thought is to not go into this with preconceived ideas. Often the dog or child you think will be the problem may not be a problem, whereas the one you least expect to pose a challenge becomes one. So, enter open minded, relaxed, expectant, and trying to intervene as little as possible. As always, take action as opposed to reacting. Reactions almost always leads to negative imprinting.
Here is what we mean by saying to take action instead of reacting. It means you should have a planned exit should things not feel right. Simply get up and calmly move your pup away. Make it clear you are out of time and have to go. Politely excuse yourself and let them know you will meet-up again soon. Stay upbeat and praise your pup along the way. You want these to be very positive experiences. Always have a plan as to how you will take action if an unwanted situation occurs. This will help you and your pup will benefit more than you can imagine.
Some activities should be approached with caution. One of these is introducing gun fire. If you are getting an OwyheeStar pup we have use special gun fire preparation CDs, however, it is still smart to approach the introduction with care. Here is a link from a former blog that talks about introducing your pup to gunfire:
In the more intense situations that might lead to a frightened pup as with the gun fire, take even more care. Try to imagine from the pup’s point of view what a skateboard or bike looks like. It is easy to see how those would feel just as scary to them as if we stood close to a moving train. Further away the train seems fairly harmless but up close it seems to almost suck you in with a vacuum-like persona. So, try to see from a dog’s perspective. Some might also just view it as something to chase and nip. Regardless, no matter what happens stay upbeat and don’t baby your pup. This can do more harm than a person realizes. This is a sure way to imprint the negative experience.
Whatever the scenario, you want to set your pup up to succeed. They can be exposed to these situations but do it in a positive manner. If they get afraid the worst thing you can do is make a big deal about the issue. If you can stay matter-of-fact and calmly let them know everything is fine then it will be fine.
The “Fear Imprint” scenario says that if by chance your pup experiences one of these scary situations during a sensitive period, they are likely to become emotionally stunted. The theory being that a fear response will be imprinted on their soul. Then they will always react to this stimulus with fear. Imprinted fears require special attention because they can lead to on-going behavior issues. Imprinted fears probably don’t happen as often as some breeders would have you believe. Imprinted fears, however, can happen any time during the first year. As with a gun shy dog, hunters will tell you that overcoming this scenario is much more work than working to avoid the problem.
Gun shyness in the OwyheeStar lineages has not been a problem. Of course, we select the pups more apt to be hunt driven and those somewhat tempered. Gun shyness, however, could become a problem if a dog is exposed to gunfire in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Just as you can allow them to be imprinted in a negative manner by carelessly shooting around them, you can imprint them positively. Introducing the gun and birds in a fun setting and in the right manner can make it a passion. The most important thing is to take your time and stage positive experiences. Failure to do this could be the undoing of the breeder’s hard work.
Whether you subscribe to “Fear Imprinting” or not, the obvious holds true. A Weimaraner pup may learn to fear things that they don’t experience in a positive manner. Another words, don’t chase a young pup with the vacuum or mow the law next to area where they are located. Try to avoid having them frightened by a skateboarder or biker.
OwyheeStar pups have experiences a lot of noises, sounds, smells, and stimulus before leaving here. Regardless, when they move to their new home it is a step-by-step building experience. Most people recommend avoiding situations that would be potentially traumatic for the pup.
We have heard of OwyheeStar pups at 8 weeks of age flying with their owner. Upon arrival the pup was set out to potty near the tarmac when a helicopter sat down near them without incident. We have know other people to have a loud noise of another kind to happen. These events were not staged or wanted but the pups didn’t even seem to notice the noise. The more conditioned they are the less risk of being frightened.
When a pup comes home with you, it is like you are starting at square one. Get the housebreaking and crate training going. As you succeed at that then keep your eyes peeled for things that seem unusual or potentially scary. Then work towards staging a situation to ensure your pup learns that the event is not going to hurt them. If the neighbor kid is going up and down the sidewalk with the skateboard, you might be well served to enlist their help. Maybe for awhile they would stop skating on your section and reach in their pocket and give the pup a treat. Then in a few days come a little closer. One day they could by and then stop and walk back with the treat. This same youth might agree to pat your pup down as we described above. If you use a training table you could put the pup on the table in have your volunteer come by and pat them carefully bringing the treat at the end again. By staging these kinds of events it can become a very positive experience. It can imprint the experience in a positive manner. Isn’t that really what imprinting is all about?
In closing, we want to shed one last thought. Your investment in this pup may well have more impact on their life than all you do for your own children. Children often seem to have their own thoughts whereas a Weimaraner pup might be stubborn but lives and breathes for you. Your investment will pay dividends that cannot be purchased elsewhere.
May your life be filled with positive imprints! ~ Shela and Cliff