Your dog doesn’t just need to be exposed to people and animals to be sure of himself. He needs experience with all kinds of sights, sounds, and surfaces. The best breeders start this process when puppies are just a few weeks old. They know that mild stress at an early age improves adaptability and coping skills later on.
How You Can Help
Puppies can’t be raised in a vacuum, protected from anything and everything that might stress or frighten them. You don’t want to traumatize or terrify your puppy; you just want to teach him to deal with unusual or slightly scary experiences without having a meltdown.
By cheerleading him through scary experiences, rather than trying to soothe him through them, you will help build his confidence and your relationship. Don’t feel sorry for him; help him work out his fears. Exude confidence yourself, and walk right up to whatever he’s afraid of with a cheery “Silly puppy! There’s nothing to be afraid of!” Give him some treats when he’s calm. Avoid cooing at him. “It’s ok, good boy, it’s ok” might sound soothing to you, but to your dog it sounds like praise — “Good boy, you’re right to be afraid,” — actually reinforcing his fear.
Conquering Big or Scary Stuff
Garbage trucks, traffic noises, vacuum cleaners, planes, trains, and motorcycles are just a few of the things your dog might experience just in the first weeks he’s home. His exposure at first should be at a distance so that he can function without fear, gradually moving closer.
It’s a delicate balance, but you want to challenge your dog without overwhelming him. Obedience and puppy classes that include some work on agility contact obstacles are great for building confidence and teamwork.
There will be times (usually in the second fear period) when your dog reacts fearfully to something he’s passed a hundred times before and never noticed, like the toilet brush or a neighbor’s recycle bin. If it’s not a big deal to you, it’s less likely to be a big deal to him. Help him work through it cheerfully and move on.