Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Puppy Socialization: 5 Store Trip Tips


Button Outside Lowes SMButton and I had our first puppy socialization trip yesterday. We went to a local home improvement store that welcomes dogs. A large place; I can always find a quiet spot if I need one. The employees love dogs and it’s a low-risk place for disease as few people take pups here. Perfect!

At just 8 weeks old, this outing is all about confidence and connection, not so much control. Control comes later – as her brain and skills develop. If I focus on control now, I will be frustrated, she will be confused and I risk making outings a drag for both of us. So I take her with the goal of enjoying Button enjoying her big, brandy-new world.

We had a blast!

Here are 5 Store Trip Tips:

1) Explore Everything

While still outside the store, we approached the red wheeled cart pictured here. All I was thinking was giving Button a chance to sniff this new-to-her item; Button had other plans. She hopped right on up without hesitation then reared up, standing on her hind legs, as I took out my phone to capture the moment.

I did not care what she decided to do when she got there. I did not pull her or urge her. Our job is simply to explore. If she wants to boldly go where no puppy has gone before, that is her choice. I certainly rewarded her for it.

Hint: Notice where my leg is. I do that so I can instantly stop any movement of the cart. A small safety precaution.

2) Don’t Take Things Head On

Things coming directly at a puppy can be scary – carts, dollies, forklifts, people. Take the pup off to the side and I do not hesitate to lift young pups up to accomplish that. Then stand out of the line of fire and watch. Better to be too far away than too close. Always stand so you have an easy escape path, if one is needed, never in a corner.

A pup at a good distance can watch, unconcerned. A pup who is lowering themselves, turning in place or scrambling for cover is way too close to whatever it is. If your pup does this inside, go outside and work there for a bit. The more room a pup has around them the less fearful they tend to be.

3) Do Dawdle

Go in time to take your time. Almost all pups will pause to watch, sniff, linger in places. Sometimes it’s to thoroughly explore some spot and sometimes it’s to regroup for a minute or so. Allow this (as long as it’s not in other’s way or around some chemicals).

If the pup is cowering, whining, hyperventilating, their paws are leaving sweaty foot prints, has their tail tucked or they are attempting to hide that is not dawdling, that is fear. You’ve gone too far, too fast for this particular puppy. With such pups I will often squat down and see if I can become safe harbor. If the pup comes to me, I am matter-of-fact but kind. I’ll pick them up and calmly move them to a quieter area because, in most cases, once any dog of any age is that stressed, learning has stopped.

Some might offer: No, leave them there, they’ll cope and I would respond: Or not. “Flooding ” (as it is called) is a tricky business, takes a long time and done poorly can make matters worse.

So I tend to move to a safer place, use that spot to practice connection and confidence, then head home so the pup can rest and regroup.

4) Be Respectful

Being allowed to bring your dog anywhere in the USA is a privledge so be appreciative and respectful. Stores are not a place for dogs with aggression issues of any kind.

If you see someone in an aisle who looks concerned about or frightened of your dog, go the other way. Their fear is not a personal to your pup, do not attempt to “cure” them – just go away. I always, always respect people’s fear of dogs.

Also, do not allow your dog to damage anything in the store and use a regular leash – six foot or less – never a retractable one.

5) Come Prepared

Yes, stores that allow dogs have clean up stuff but it is my goal for them to never know it was needed. I travel with some poop bags, dry paper towels and a few towels moistened with odor neutralizer in a ziplock bag. This allows me to be quick and thorough should Spot leave a wet spot. I time trips for just after the pup empties completely but sometimes pups will be pups. Also, the more nervous the puppy is, the more likely they are to go.

Keep these five store trip tips in mind during your next outing and you, your pup and the store will enjoy your visit.


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