Best places to socialize a puppy

Puppy socialization. It can sound intimidating. What even is it? How do I do it? What are the best places to socialize a puppy? How do trainer’s do it? Super common questions that every puppy owner should be asking!

Breaking down the best places to socialize a puppy

If you don’t know what socialization is, that’s ok, click through here to find out! For those of you with a rudimentary understanding of puppy socialization, we’re going to talk about what makes one place better than another. Even though finding the right places might feel daunting, if you stick to a few simple questions when analyzing a place you might use you’ll be able to sort good from bad in no time at all. 

What we look for in the places to socialize

When teaching a dog anything, we want to keep the cards stacked in our favor. Part of this process is being choosy with where we train, where we take our young dogs, and how we expose them to the world. Too much too fast can lead to a lot of trouble, stress, and extra work. Too little and you’re in for the same thing. Why would we aim to need to fix something broken down the line when we can prevent it from happening in the first place?

As much as possible we want to control variables in our dog’s training. In socialization this means trying to control the world, which is pretty impossible when we look at it through that lens. Things that are in my control though, how close I get to things with my puppy, where I allow him to go, when we go, how hungry or tired he is, what we’re likely to see. Individual things that might happen, no one can control or foresee, but with thoughtful planning we can sidestep things that might be problematic. 

These are the questions I ask when considering whether to take my puppy somewhere for socialization:

  • How close can I park the car?
  • How busy is this place?
  • What kind of traffic does it have? Animals? People? Vehicles? Big huge noisy things like trains, planes, or boats?
  • Is there a lot of animal traffic, domestic or wild?
  • Is this indoors or outdoors?
  • How close are other people?
  • Can we be surprised by things?
  • Can we quickly get out of the wrong situations?
  • What kinds of surfaces are there?
  • How old is my puppy and is he going through any fear periods?
  • What can I use to help support my puppy?
  • What’s my travel time?

This allows you to fairly easily categorize places and thus be able to make informed decisions about them. What your puppy is comfortable with and the things you’re working on socializing them to will change as your puppy ages. None of this is static. As your puppy gets vaccinated more places will open up to you, but just because they aren’t fully vaccinated doesn’t mean that they can’t be socialized to things. All that means is that we’re more thoughtful in where we take our pup, how we let our puppy interact with the environment, and really how deeply we delve into the socialization at that time. 

Places to avoid

Top item on this list is dog parks. Places to socialize your puppy need to be controlled environments. We are shaping how the dog views the world and when there are tons of variables and things that are completely out of our control, it’s a recipe for disaster. Additionally, due to high dog traffic these places are hotspots for disease. Vaccinated dogs can still be carries for illnesses, and the consequences to puppies can be deadly. Honestly dog parks are one of the worst places you could pick to socialize any dog, puppy or otherwise and no real trainer would ever recommend going that route. 

Dog friendly stores are also places to be a bit wary of. Dog traffic for the unvaccinated pup is dangerous, so pet stores should be crossed off the list. Plus for your puppy with zero training, what are they learning when they get to pull or strain towards the things they want? Or when they are allowed to dive in to a bunch of toys to pick one out, while it’s a super cute idea, all your pup is understanding is that they at this time can have it all. Very quickly this can make your pup start looking for other times they can have everything, and they’re likely to try this all the time. 

Other dog friendly hardware stores are generally a bit safer, but personally I avoid them until I have enough of a bond with my puppy that he doesn’t desire to seek out the attention of everyone who exists in the store. The issue with these places is often there is a level of surprise that can happen that can be too high for some puppies. Due to the setup with aisles there can also be times where you’re too trapped for the pup’s comfort and that’s something we absolutely want to avoid. It’s all about maintaining positivity with you and neutrality with the environment, and that’s really hard to do with variables that we just can’t control. 

It’s really not too difficult to find what the best places to socialize a puppy are in your area if you break it down! Taking that extra look at the places you want to socialize will give you an edge in your training and problem prevention with your pup.