Age range: 11 weeks to 6 months.
Size: 12 lbs +
No more than 6 puppies at a time.
$50 per session.
($40 for my New Puppy Consult clients.)
Located in Alexandria, VA 22306.
Held outside, roughly mid-March through mid-December. A chilly early spring week might have two afternoon sessions from noon-3, and a hot summer week two 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!
"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
My key goal with PuppyPALS is for each pup to have the positive play experience that will build confidence for a lifetime. (This is enrichment, not doggy daycare!)
Drop your pup off for a three-hour play session
with four or five other puppies, supervised every minute by a certified professional dog trainer (me!).
I carefully select 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.
All of this means that that these puppies are set up to develop the confidence and the communication skills that will keep them happier and safer in future dog encounters. Instead of being skittish, barky, or aggressive based on fear and discomfort, they’ll be set up to be little doggy diplomats, able to enjoy friendly walks, 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 happily passes out for hours. A tired puppy really is a good puppy! Clients tell me there is a remarkable decrease in mouthing, jumping, chewing and general destruction even the following day.
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.
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: