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Socialization has two aspects. It is about the positive way a puppy adjusts to the different elements in her life, such as people, dogs, new places or surroundings. It is also about the way the owner encourages the puppy as she goes through this adjustment.
At 3-12 weeks old, a puppy may still be finding it hard to socialize. This is because she is only beginning to develop her senses, which add to her feelings of insecurity. Young puppies feel the need to run back to the safety of their mother and litter when they feel the need for added security. This behavior is normal and expected.
At this stage, puppies are beginning to create social relationships with the rest of the litter and their mother. Basically, they are learning to be dogs at this age. Young puppies can be easily overwhelmed by what they perceive through their senses. Everything they touch, see, feel, taste and hear is new to them. They are naturally curious but still hesitant.
While they are still very young, you should protect the puppies from becoming too stimulated. Too much excitement or activity around them can overwhelm their senses, leading them to become fearful of the things around them. As much as possible, they must be given a peaceful and quiet space, at least for the first week or so. As they mature, they will go through a natural “fear period,” where they are fearful of things that are new to them.
Fearing things that are unfamiliar to them is a useful defense mechanism that is necessary for a puppy’s survival. It is the only way for them to avoid predators. In the wild, a wolf pup only socializes with its litter, its mother, and with other members of the pack until it reaches the age of about 12 weeks.
A domestic puppy must be allowed to socialize first with her mother, her litter, and later with the larger community. While you need to limit the excitement in those first weeks, you should also make sure that your puppies are getting lots of contact with humans, so that they are learning to live amongst them and behave accordingly. The puppy should learn early to accept that humans will always be a part of her life. Otherwise, a puppy that is not given enough exposure to humans will grow up fearing them. She may not be able to adjust socially and that could affect her emotions and trainability.
It is almost impossible, and very expensive, to change this kind of negative attitude. It is for this reason that wild dogs that have been captured can never be domesticated or tamed. Having no previous experiences of socialization with humans, they tend to become aggressive -- even violent -- or run away.
To put it simply, dogs must be raised by humans from the time they are puppies in order for them to adjust to being domesticated and to live peacefully with humans.
Image: Ritmó / via Flickr