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PuppyPALS Playgroup






Twice-a-week, three-hour,

drop-off playgroups. 

Age range: 10 weeks to 6 months.

Size: 12 to 40 lbs.

No more than 6 puppies at a time.

Tues & Fri 9am-noon is typical. Reservations on Sundays after weather check and day/time announcement.

$40 if we've had a New Puppy Consult;

$50 for everybody else.

Located in Alexandria, VA 22306.

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The Benefits of PuppyPALS!


My key goal with PuppyPALS is for each pup to have the positive play experience that will build confidence for a lifetime. (Note that this is not doggy daycare -- it is an enrichment program directed by a certified force-free trainer.)


For each session, I carefully select pups who will do well together. I use 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.

As a result, PuppyPALS puppies are set up to develop the confidence and the communication skills that will keep them happier and safer in future dog encounters.  

PuppyPALS creates positive associations with all sorts of new things! Suddenly, car rides predict big fun! Being left at a new place without mom/dad isn't scary -- in fact most pups don't want to leave! Pups also get to greet the other puppies' humans at drop-off and pick-up, which helps enlarge their happy world.


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 zonks out for hours.  Clients tell me there is a remarkable decrease in mouthing, jumping, chewing and general destruction even the following day. 


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 dogs, who set a great example, guide appropriate behavior, and de-mystify the idea of a big dog. 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 sits and touches. Learning to listen in a group is a great skill! The youngest ones often then lounge around and even nap a bit, before a final burst of action prior to pick-up.

Click here for the waiver that'll get you on the list. Print, fill, scan, email back.

Click here for the payment/drop-off details. 

"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


But ... what about shots?


Well-meaning people may tell you not to take a puppy anywhere until she's had all of her parvo/distemper shots, which is typically around 4 months. That out-dated, black-and-white advice is incredibly harmful, and we trainers see the consequences all the time: "My puppy was so friendly before! But now at 5 months, when we can finally take her places, she's terrified of everything."

Yep. That's because all she saw in her formative "childhood" was her own home and her own people, and as she reaches adolescence, biology is telling her that if she hasn't seen it before, it's probably a threat. Science has now proven that puppies are open to new things only until they're about 16 weeks old. If you miss that socialization window (which happens to be when pups are not yet fully vaccinated) your pup may be permanently skittish about anything new: people, dogs, cars, trucks, flags, tile, strollers, planters, umbrellas, basketballs, etc.!


This is so critical that, in 2018, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (vets who are also behaviorists) published a position statement which explicitly encourages owners to broadly socialize pups before they are fully vaccinated, noting: "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."  

Careful and deliberate exposure to the world (no dog parks! no pet stores!) is what your pup needs to develop fully into the companion you envision. That's why I created PuppyPALS four years ago, and it's been wonderful to watch the results.


Read up on the importance of socialization, and how to take a nuanced approach, below:

American Veterinary Medical Association Literature Review

on the Socialization of Puppies & Kittens

Conditioning Confidence in Your Puppy (Pat Miller)

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior,

2018 Position Statement on Puppy Socialization

Balancing Risk: Isolation Vs. Infection (Kathy Callahan)

Click here for a video to . . .

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