Author Topic: What is a fear imprint period?  (Read 5260 times)

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Offline Kirsten

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What is a fear imprint period?
« on: March 31, 2016, 02:58:05 PM »
First what it is NOT:

It is not a period of fearful behavior that puppies outgrow on their own that you should just ignore. That seems to be a widely held belief, but it is wrong and can lead to permanent damage of a dog's psychological make up.

First, what does "imprint" mean? It's an important word that is being skipped over or ignored in the above misconception.  If you walk in mud, you leave an imprint of your shoe in the mud. It remains after the shoe is removed. If you make that imprint in concrete it can remain even when you are long gone and buried. An imprint has a lasting effect. In terms of brain development, imprinting lasts for the life of the animal being imprinted. For them it is permanent.

You can change the outward expression of behavior in the layer that covers an imprint just as snow can cover an imprint in concrete, but beneath the snow that imprint still exists. It is therefore highly important that the impression made when the concrete is freshly poured be the best it can be.

As pup develops certain sections of his brain will be in active development in a progression. He does not learn and mature uniformly all over his brain each day. The pathways for brain activity are laid down systematically with the focus on major pathways laid in each area one at a time, then tributaries filled in later. It's like planning a city. You lay out the main streets first, then fill in, but you also divide the city into sections and don't try to build all streets simultaneously.

Puppies are born deaf and blind. Their eyes and ear canals open during their first three weeks of life. At three weeks of age primary socialization begins. This is when they realize they are not alone and that others share this world with them. That is what socialization is: knowledge of other living creatures. Another common misconception is that socialization means taking pups to stores to get them used to places. That's habituation and it's not places they are learning but things, textures, sounds, smells, and sights. It does not make any difference if pup sees Walmart as a pup on his future performance at Walmart. It does make a difference that he meet at least ten new people each week, people who are always gentle and friendly, who like puppies, and who are different from other people he has met before. Old people and young, male and female, different ethnicities, different diets, different styles of dress, different types of personality. They also need to walk on different surfaces, hear different sounds, smell different smells. It does not matter WHICH sights, smells, sounds and textures, just that there be a lot of variety.

Primary socialization and habituation typically occur from about 3 weeks of age to about 12-16 weeks of age. Continued socialization and habituation through the first year are still important, but during primary socialization is when the major roadways to understanding creatures and the environment are being laid down. Those roadways are permanent. They cannot be changed later. Only added to in an ever increasing jumble of the initial paths where not broad and diverse to accommodate diversity and life experience.

Except pup won't be reliable in toileting before 16 weeks when this magic window closes. So pup should not be going to public accommodations during this period. But that's okay because public accommodations are terrible places for socialization.

So somewhere in the middle of primary socialization is the first fear imprint period. This can vary by breed, but usually lasts for about a week when they are eight weeks old. In other words right when you're taking pup home.

What is a fear imprint period? It is a period of development when pup learns to assess danger. He learns how to determine what and who are safe, and what and who are not safe. It is critical that a pup meant to in any way encounter strangers in the future to pass through this period with the firm belief that all people and domestic animals are gentle and kind and his best friends.  You continue socialization and habituation BUT you take extra precautions to make sure he encounters no grumps, nothing that hurts or is scary.

When he acts uncertain, suspicious, concerned, skeptical, nervous, flighty or anything other than his usual happy-go-lucky self, you immediately stop what you are doing, identify what is concerning to him, move him away from it to a distance where he will observe it without trying to bark at it, run from it, or freeze, and then you step forward alone, calmly, confidently, exuding curiosity from every pore and you approach and carefully examine and investigate the fear object. If pup joins you, you investigate together as a team. If he does not, you investigate as his leader and protector.

When pup accepts your claim that it is safe or at least your assertion that he is safe because you will lead, then you can turn quietly and leave calmly.

Do not coo at pup, console, comfort, or cajole pup. If he wants to approach you and lean on you, allow him to do so. Speak quietly and matter-of-factly that he is worried about nothing and is safe. A stroke or two such as you would give in casual greeting, a look of calm love on your face are all okay, but no drama please. It's just a freaking shopping bag stuck on a clump of grass after all!

Funniest fear imprint situation I had with Tardis was during an adolescent fear imprint period (longer, less well defined period maybe around eight months, maybe more than one even if called "second fear imprint period"):  "The case of the body in the closet."

We were at the yarn shop, in the break room or kitchen area. Tardis stiffened and gave a fierce warning bark. I turned to follow his gaze and see what he was talking about. The closet door was open a few inches and I could just make out some blonde hair and an arm held at an unnatural angle. I told Tardis he was a fool, a silly boy, and I let the leash out as I passed him and approached. "NO, MAMA DON'T! THERE IS DANGER!" He said urgently, but I ignored him and continued toward the closet, foolishly oblivious and naive. Tardis thought for less than two seconds and made up his brave fluffy mind. If his stupid but lovable human was going to go face an axe murderer who had already dismembered one woman and left her arms and legs askew in a pile on the closet floor, she was not going to face the killer alone! (Cue organ sting and Arctic wind blowing through his raven tresses as he bravely thrust past me into danger.) .....

Yeah. It was a mannequin. I patted her head and he sniffed briefly and then said, "I told you it was nothing to worry about silly human."

« Last Edit: March 31, 2016, 03:05:12 PM by Kirsten »
Kirsten and Tardis
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Offline Roxie

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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2016, 03:36:39 PM »
I'm really happy you wrote this, Kirsten. It's very valuable information, and extremely well written: factual, easy to read and understand (short to the point sentences and paragraphs.) Thank you for writing this with all the time you put into it.

I enjoyed the Tardis story! I always loved your stories about him as you waited for him, raised and trained him. I still have the pix of him and Tay sitting together. That was the best day of my life!
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Offline ember

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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2016, 03:39:20 PM »
This is perfect. I have been wondering about this as we get our pup in two weeks.

Offline Magesteff

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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2016, 09:55:30 PM »
Should this  be made a sticky?
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Offline ZombieFodder

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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2016, 09:58:30 PM »
I found this really interesting. Thanks for taking the time to explain and share some best of Tardis moments.  :cool:
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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2016, 10:18:45 PM »
Should this  be made a sticky?

I'd say it's worth keeping around. Definitely worth a sticky in my mind.
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Offline RedSonia29

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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2017, 01:02:50 PM »
Thank you for posting this, Kirsten. My DAD SDiT puppy, Bowie, is going through this phase right now. Today, it was fresh snow. Crunchy snow is okay and fun to jump in (because it makes crunchy noises - which he loves), but fresh, powdery snow is NOT OKAY (because he gets buried in it). So we spent the morning shoveling the driveway together and he found out that fresh snow was more fun to jump and hide in (but is still kind of cold)....

My DAD trainer has warned me of the cooing and reassuring language that we frequently fall into with (baby) puppies. Just because they're babies, doesn't mean that you treat them like they're human babies. My trainer warned me of the same things that you just did, and now I pat Bowie a few times, tell him to "check it out" with me, and they we go on our merry way.
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Offline trippychick

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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2017, 04:05:23 PM »
This is great! Is it ok to copy?

Offline Kirsten

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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2017, 07:18:00 PM »
Copy for what purpose?  If for personal use, like in your own training notes, sure, it's fine.  But if for distribution to others then I'd want to know how it was being distributed, to whom, and with what compensation.
Kirsten and Tardis
In loving memory of Cole (1/11/99 - 6/26/12)  He gave me back my life.

"The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world -- the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous -- is his dog." -George G. Vest

Offline trippychick

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Re: What is a fear imprint period?
« Reply #9 on: November 24, 2017, 09:14:30 PM »
i would like to keep a copy in my notes. If I shared it with anyone down the road I would ask permission first and give full credit, it really is a wonderful easy to understand explanation. Thank you