Fire engines and the 2nd developmental fear period in young dogs

So I was out walking yesterday with 8-month old Dakota down a local rural road. The road was empty of all vehicles, and there were no other pedestrians or dog walkers. It was peaceful, and we were having a lovely time together. I had just cued Dakota into a sit-stay neatly at the side of the road for practice, when suddenly a large red fire engine truck, lights flashing, came over the rise behind us and driving very fast. I already had Dakota in a sit-stay, so I just looked calmly at the truck as it came speeding towards us, making sure that Dakota was protected by my body and not moving.

And then it happened. For no reason that I could see, the driver of this big red vehicle, as he reached us, decided to switch on his sirens. Right next to us. And then they were gone, around the corner ahead of us. And right there and then, Dakota entered his second developmental fear period.

About 30 seconds later another fire engine drove past, also with his lights flashing, followed by a police car. These two vehicles both slowed down considerably for us, and didn’t use their sirens. Dakota accepted them with no sign of further distress. What was it with that first driver?

Back to Dakota. It took me about 15 minutes before I could finally encourage Dakota to move one paw in front of another. He was rooted to the ground and convinced that he shouldn’t go around the corner that the siren had disappeared around. I ended up dropping treats on the ground in front of him to encourage forward movement. My sweet dog was completely unsettled, but I wanted to take him around the corner to show him that there was nothing there for him to be afraid of anymore.

And on today’s gentle and quiet walk, he was again unsettled: every squirrel and deer rustling in the trees made him stop and stare at the noise for a very long time before he would move on with me.

I suspect that Dakota may now have a lifelong fear of fire engines, and perhaps I need to take him and some very tasty meatballs down to our local fire station to see if I can change his mind about them. And here is a request to all fire engine drivers: please don’t ever do what this driver did to my dog. The siren was uncalled for at that moment in time, but may have caused a lifelong traumatic memory for my dog. It wasn’t necessary. Rant over.

One thought on “Fire engines and the 2nd developmental fear period in young dogs

  1. I learned a lot about socialization when Honey came to live with me as a puppy. But I knew nothing about a second developmental fear period. If I had known more, she’d probably be a bolder pup today. Luckily, we worked with an excellent trainer who gave me the help I needed to encourage her to become a little braver.

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