During this fairly brief period your pup progresses from the equivalent of a human toddler – about 4 years old, needing security and reassurance and prone to tantrums – to a 13-year-old ready to explore the world. Like most toddlers they need naps – in fact they sleep most of the time for the first few weeks – and dogs in general spend a lot more time sleeping than we humans do. Your pup is healthy if he is playful while he is awake.
This is the most important time in any dog’s life. It is the time when a pup learns what it means to be a dog, who his family is and where he fits in the family hierarchy. It is a time when one bad experience can permanently affect his personality – phobias of things like travel, shopping centres or vacuum cleaners can develop at this stage.
During this period your pup should be exposed to as many different nonthreatening experiences as possible. You should avoid any punishment that might frighten your pup. Remember that no matter how irritating he may be, he is only a baby (how long would you leave your toddler in a preschool where children were smacked if they were disobedient?). Punishment is usually an ineffective training tool and this is discussed further in the section on training.
I believe it is important that if you have small children, you do let them carry the pup around under supervision. Toddlers are too close to the ground to do too much damage if they drop them, and even small children can learn to carry a pup safely. The pup begins to learn from this that the child, who may soon be much bigger than the pup, is the boss. This is the most important lesson a pup must learn, and this learning starts in the socialisation period.
This is also the period during which many vets recommend that your pup is isolated from any unvaccinated dogs in order to prevent infection (particularly with parvovirus) – this is a zero risk policy.
If we did this to our children we would not send them to school until they were 13 years old and had finished their final childhood vaccinations. Some children might cope with this and adjust once their isolation period was over, but most would be excessively shy, anxious or aggressive because they had never learnt how to play properly with their peers. We realise the importance of socialisation in our children and so are prepared to risk exposing them to potentially life-threatening 12
viruses before their final vaccinations at the end of primary school. Isolating pups would have exactly the same adverse consequences.
In middle-class suburbs the risk of parvovirus is very low (on the Sydney North Shore most vets haven’t seen a case in 10 years). Dog parks should be avoided due to the risk of disease and because this environment is too uncontrolled and potenitally terrifying for a young puppy. I recommend that pups be taken driving, visiting, shopping (or at least being carried about in busy streets), to school for show-and-tell – anywhere they can meet friendly people in a non-threatening environment during their first 12 weeks, because the risk of infection lasts until 14 weeks whereas the effects of poor socialisation last a lifetime.