When you get a new puppy, you need to start socializing them and exposing them to different situations almost immediately (whether it’s your service dog prospect or any other dog). When you’re first taking a young puppy to pet-friendly places you should carry them or find another way to keep them up off the floor until they’re fully vaccinated to lower the risk of them catching diseases like Parvo. Here’s the American Veterinary Medical Association’s statement on early socialization.
With young puppies, it’s important to remember to keep all trips short and positive. Five minutes per month of age is generally the suggested amount of time to stay out with them. Don’t push for too much or you may end up with a dog that burns out and doesn’t enjoy going places anymore.
Here are some options for pet-friendly places to socialize your service dog prospect:
Tractor Supply Co: All tractor supplies are pet-friendly and are a great place to take puppies for exposure and socialization.
Cabela’s: Cabela’s corporate policy is to pet-friendly. They’re a great place to take them to expose them to a variety of items you won’t find in many other places.
Home Improvement Stores: Some Lowe’s and Home Depots are pet-friendly but it varies from store to store. Check with your local stores and find out their pet policy before taking your puppy there. Although Lowe’s corporate policy isn’t pet-friendly many individual stores welcome well-mannered dogs as long as they’re leashed and friendly. Some even keep treats behind the counter for any dogs that may come in.
Pet Stores: Of course, places like PetSmart and Petco are extremely pet-friendly. There are normally a lot of dog people there and a lot of other dogs so be extremely cautious if your puppy isn’t vaccinated fully yet and do not put them on the ground under any circumstances.
Farmer Co-Ops: Nearly all Co-Ops are pet-friendly if you happen to have one near you.
Bass Pro Shops: Bass Pro Shop’s corporate policy is pet-friendly to well-behaved dogs (that are friendly towards people and children). Like Cabela’s this is a great place to expose them to things you won’t find elsewhere. They even have occasional dog days that would be fun for both you and your dog.
Ranch Supply Stores: Most ranch supply stores are also pet-friendly, although you should call and confirm before bringing your prospect in. Atwood’s is a popular one in the south and they’re all pet-friendly. They’re great for exposing your puppies to a variety of things that you may not find in other places, including letting them listen to the baby chicks and other animals they usually have in the store.
**Are you aware of another store that is pet-friendly? Contact us with a link to their corporate policy so we can add it to the list!
Other Places to Socialize
Strip Malls: Walking around outside of strip malls can be a great way to socialize your puppy. Let them people watch and hear all the sounds around them.
Outside other non-pet friendly stores: Another option is just sitting in a parking lot or in front of a store with your pup. Again, just letting them people watch and get accustomed to the sights and smells there will be helpful down the line.
Parks: After your puppy has finished their vaccine schedule you can start taking them to parks as well. If there’s no one there the playground equipment is great for working on different surfaces. If there are people there it’s good to be able to stay back a bit and let the dog listen to the kids yelling and laughing.
A Note About Socialization
Socializing a puppy isn’t about making your dog interact with every person you see. Generally meeting a handful and watching all types of people around them is enough. Of course, some breeds and individual dogs may need a more proactive approach to socializing, if you’re concerned you should discuss it with your trainer (and maybe even your breeder).
It’s also not about flooding the puppy and overwhelming them with too much at once. You don’t want to take a young puppy straight to the busiest place in town and expect everything to go well. Start small with calmer outings and build up at the dog’s pace. Don’t rush it or you may end up with a shutdown dog that isn’t comfortable or happy working.
Don’t forget to expose them to a variety of surfaces and sounds as well during their prime socialization window (from eight to twelve weeks old). Here’s an excellent checklist for everything you should expose your puppy to while they’re young.
It’s also crucial that you are aware of and can recognize stress signs in your puppy. Some of the most obvious are:
- Whale Eyes: You can clearly see the white of the dog’s eye
- Lip Licking: The dog is frequently licking its lips for no other reason
- Yawning: Yawning can also be a sign of stress in dogs
- Panting: If it’s not hot and your dog is panting hard it may be stress induced
- Hypervigilance: Constantly (potentially frantically) looking around in all directions unable to focus
If you notice these behaviors in your puppy then you need to work to relieve your dog’s stress and help them relax. Sometimes this means leaving and coming back to it at another time. Sometimes just moving farther away from the stressor is enough to let your dog relax and enjoy themselves. A low level of stress isn’t going to hurt your dog but higher levels aren’t something we want to put them through and it will damage them in the long run. You should also familiarize yourself with more detailed information on dog body language. You need to be able to understand what your dog is trying to tell you for their entire life, not just throughout puppyhood.