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
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.