PuppyPALS Playgroup

Play-And-Learn Socialization


Drop your pup off for a 3-hour session, supervised every minute by a certified professional dog trainer (me!).


The key goal is for each pup to have

the positive play experience

that will build confidence for a lifetime. 

(This is enrichment, not doggy daycare.) 

I carefully selected puppy groupings

based on age/size/play style. 

My force-free, positive training approach uses fun distractions (toys! perimeter hikes! sitting for treats!) to redirect

less-desired play.

Our setting is filled with wonderful obstacles (bushes, trees, benches, planters, etc.) that naturally facilitate

good play by slowing things down.

Pups can start at 10 weeks and

typically continue until 5 months.

 No more than 5 puppies per day.

$50 per session.

($40 for my foster alums

and puppy consult clients.)

Located in Alexandria, VA 22306.

Open mid-March through mid-December. I'm always in search of the optimal play weather, so a typical early spring week might have two afternoon sessions from noon-3, and a summer week is more likely to have morning sessions from 9-noon. 

I send out an email announcing the week's offerings by 10am Sunday morning, after a weather check. After folks respond with availability, I send out an email listing the week's groups (after thoughtful match-making) by Sunday evenings. You have to check your email or you miss out!


Note that because this is not simple doggy daycare, each pup won't necessarily get every session desired. Pups with wonderful play skills, who can help others develop theirs, will get more slots. It may feel unfair but it's all for the greater good!

(P.S. Our PALS tend to be in the 15-30 pound range, and I can't safely accommodate

pups who are less than 10 lbs.)

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Click here to . . .


"I could see the difference in Juniper after just one PuppyPALS session! Suddenly on our walks she was way more relaxed around other dogs."

                            – Lee Litchford

Why PuppyPALS?


Many puppy parents understand that it’s critical to socialize their pups with other dogs in those first key months – but they just don’t have doggy network necessary to do it.  When pups are too young for dog parks or doggy daycare, where do you find a dozen other puppies and a few trust-worthy adult dogs?


Answer: my house. I created PuppyPALS because I hated to think of all the puppies missing out on doggy play right when they needed it most. (You need to make the most of a pup's short socialization window! Read this.)  PuppyPALS offers the ideal dog-to-dog socialization experience for pups from 10 weeks to 5 months old: 

  • A small group of rotating puppy playmates means the PALS get the comfort of old friends and the broadening experience of new ones, every time.

  • My resident dogs – utterly trustworthy, having helped foster 195+ rescue puppies – teach manners and demystify the idea of a big dog. 

  • An outdoor environment with varied terrain and activities keeps things interesting.

  • Constant (okay, obsessive) oversight by a Certified Professional Dog Trainer  (that’s me) ensures the experience is positive. 


The Results

All of this means that that these puppies are set up to develop the confidence and the communication skills that will keep them happy and safe in future dog encounters. Instead of being skittish, barky, or aggressive based on fear and discomfort, they’ll be little doggy diplomats, able to enjoy pleasant walks, safe dog park visits, extended holiday stays with “cousin” dogs, etc. 


And while I personally am in it for the developmental angle, PuppyPALS parents realize after the very first day that the immediate upside is that their normally inexhaustible pup comes home and passes out for five blissful hours. A tired puppy really is a good puppy! Even the following day clients tell me there is a remarkable decrease in mouthing, jumping, chewing and general destruction. 


What A Session Looks Like

A typical three-hour session involves about 20 minutes of settling in as the pups greet each other. After that I bring out my own puppy-tolerant big dogs, who set a great example and teach the youngsters how to interact respectfully. Generally, there’s an hour of exuberant wrestling/chasing/tug-of-war, etc. as the new friends figure out what’s fun to do together. On hot days, I fill up the kiddie pool so bring a towel for the ride home! Once they slow down a bit, I do some training on and off – some recall exercises, and some group sits. The littlest ones often then lounge around and even nap a bit, before a final burst of action prior to pick-up.


Throughout the session, I’m focused on making sure this is a positive experience for every pup. I often intervene (getting us all going on laps around the yard, introducing a different toy, or perhaps creating two groups) to keep everybody feeling comfortable.


Click here for the waiver that'll get you on the list.

Click here for the payment/drop-off details. 

Shots vs. Socialization 


If you have a new 8-week-old pup, well-meaning people may tell you not to take her anywhere until she's had all of her shots. That is old-fashioned, even dangerous advice! 

Instead, listen to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Read their 2018 position statement below, which explicitly encourages owners to broadly socialize their pups before they are fully vaccinated. Why? Because "Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life ... Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age." 

In short, science has shown that puppies are open to new things for only the first few months. If you miss that socialization window (which happens to be when pups are not yet fully vaccinated) your pup may be permanently nervous around new people, animals, sounds, places, etc.  

Read up on this complex topic here:

Balancing Risk: Isolation Vs. Infection (Kathy Callahan)

Conditioning Confidence in Your Puppy (Pat Miller)

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior,

2018 Position Statement on Puppy Socialization