My 15 month old pup is going through an adolescent fear period. My normally laid back girl is suddenly acting jumpy and fearful of things like...the garbage can. Yep, the garbage can that sits in our yard, in the same place, and has her whole life. Granted once a week it disappears for pick up and then reappears, but suddenly she is leaning back away from it with her hind end like it is a scary monster while reaching towards it with her front end to try to sniff it from afar. And in general she is just a bit twitchy, a sudden noise behind her might cause her to take a little leap. She recovers but she IS jumpy and this is all new for her.
Am I worried? Not particularly. While not everyone knows it, dogs have multiple fear periods and one of them, sometimes called the Adolescent Fear Period, happens sometime between 9-18 months. Occasionally you will see it called the "Fear of Situations Period" and that is a really good name because it accurately describes what most owners see in their beloved pets. In general, this period corresponds with a major growth spurt in the dog and many believe that is is adaptive in that this would be the time when a dog would go off from the safety of its family and such a fear would help keep it safe in the world. Who knows? Sounds like a reasonable theory to me.
Frustratingly, the "fear of situations period" has a lot of unknowns including that it can start in a huge window, it lasts for an unspecified period of time and has a wide range of severity. My experience is that is more pronounced in intact females after their first heat cycle and, not surprisingly my own girl just had her first heat a month ago. Since it is growth related, its not surprising that small dogs often experience this phenomena earlier than large dogs.
The important thing to know is that this adolescent fear period is real and needs to be handled like any fear period, with care and kindness and not exacerbated by the use of force, which at this phase can do real damage by frightening the dog. Training during this period needs to put the dog in a position of success so that she can build confidence while also working things through about what is, in fact, scary.
So no, I am not going to run outside and start implementing a counter conditioning plan for my pup around the garbage can. I'm going to let her take her time, at her own pace and in her own way, to decide that garbage cans are nothing to be afraid of.