How a Pandemic Can Help You Socialize Your Adventure Puppy

How a Pandemic Can Help You Socialize Your Adventure Puppy

  • Allison Hartz

Story and Photos Contributed by dog trainer and Ruffwear Ambassador Maria Christina Schultz

Bodie in a Float Coat stands on paddleboard on shore while Maria holds the board.


I knew last fall that if Bodie’s training was where I wanted it to be, I could add another female to our pack again. I really wanted Bodie to have a buddy similar in age, so they could join me and keep up with each other on our adventures. I also missed having a best gal to pal around with!

I’m so excited to introduce Willow! She’s incredibly sweet, adventurous, and well-mannered, and she’s already keeping “wild child” Bodie in line.

Maria's three pups sitting in the back of the car together.

Was I worried about getting my next puppy during the pandemic due to the limitations placed on socializing? Nope, not at all! Believe it or not, interaction is not required to properly socialize a puppy. This is even more true for an adventure dog in the making. A puppy can learn a lot about the world by just seeing it, noting it, and moving on.

Here’s my theory on socializing puppies and how I’ve incorporated it into what I’ve been doing with Willow for the past few weeks.

Basically, socializing is the act of making someone behave in a way that is acceptable to their society. Most people think that socializing a dog means letting their pups play and interact with other dogs. While this is true and, in most cases, a good idea, it’s only one piece of the socializing puzzle. In order to be confident and navigate the human landscape, a dog, preferably between the ages of eight and twelve weeks, needs to be constantly exposed to a variety of sights, sounds, people, environments, and situations. 

Maria and puppy Willow in float coat sit on paddleboard looking at ducks.

The goal is to have the novelty effect of new stuff – and the craziness that comes with it – wear off.  The more your dog goes out and experiences, the less new-and-exciting things seem. One of the biggest mistakes we make is allowing our dogs to interact with everything. Puppies simply need to be exposed to, not necessarily interact with, things in order to feel confident around them.

Here’s how I like to look at it. I want my dogs to be confident but not have an overwhelming desire to interact with everything they see. For example, most hikers don’t want to be approached by dogs on trails. A mountain biker wouldn’t be happy if your dog made him crash. And you most certainly don’t want your adventure companion feeling the need to play with scary – or stinky – wildlife. 

Willow stands on front of paddleboard wearing Float Coat.

When I take Willow for a socializing outing, I don’t let everyone we come across greet her. It’s hard to turn people away, especially in the face of such heart-wrenching cuteness, but this is an important concept I need my dogs to understand. In time, I allow them to greet people but only when I give the OK. 

Simply being around other people, dogs, bikers, and wildlife, and learning to not engage, is an awesome skill to encourage at a young age. And the absolute beauty of this time of COVID-19 we’re living in, with its six-foot social distancing requirement, is that it’s perfect for socializing a puppy. 

Willow in front range harness in leash on a training walk with Maria.

I do a lot of work with my dogs in stores and urban environments, so it’s also important to sprinkle in some adventure-specific social skills. Here are some of my best tips for getting your puppy adventure-ready:

Have your puppies wear things. Everything from harnesses and collars to coats and little PFDs. I want my dogs to get used to the feeling of having something on their bodies. With adventure dogs, backpacks, boots and PFDs will be part of life, so why not introduce them early on?

Get them acquainted with equipment. I want my dogs to light up at the sight of bikes, paddleboards, kayaks, etc. So right from the start, we practice being around the gear with lots of positive reinforcement. 

Willow lays on paddleboard on the grass.

Let them know that unstable surfaces can be OK. Not every dog is a natural athlete, and not every puppy has great balance. I like to encourage my dogs to walk on a variety of surfaces between the ages of eight and twelve weeks. I look for sand, thick patches of grass, mulch, gravel, water, even small boulders – anything they can safely climb over. This helps build balance and confidence early on. Note: Don’t let your puppy jump off of objects. Compression is really bad for developing growth plates. 

Instill that being carried, and handled, is not a bad thing. In the event my dog gets injured on a trail, I need to be able to carry her to safety. On our walks, I’ll randomly pick her up and carry her, just so she gets used to it. It’s an exercise that also builds trust. 

Willow soaking wet from playing in water wrapped in towel sitting on Dirtbag Seat Cover for dogs in car.

Don’t forget the sounds of nature. Thunder, crickets, whitewater, and rain on a tent fly. Sounds make up a great deal of socializing. Think about what your puppy is hearing when you’re out and about and how she’s reacting. If it starts thundering, go out on your porch for a quick training session so your puppy learns it’s no big deal. 

In conclusion, don’t let the pandemic stop you from getting a puppy or taking him – or her – out to see the world. Social distancing can work in your favor. It’s a great premise for helping your new adventure dog understand boundaries and gain confidence at the same time.

Maria's dogs sitting on Clear Lake Blanket in the woods.

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  • Robin Belton

    I ref to purchase a puppy a RuffWear harness & training treats Charlie bear’s

  • jaggerdwagger

    thank You . very good advice

  • Ginger


    Any tips for socializing an older pup/young adult? I got my mini Aussie at 10 mths old. She came with no basic training, no house-training and no human socialization. She is doing super with basic commands and house-training. However, she growls at people on trail. She good with other dogs on trail (I always ask first if they are friendly) but terrible with humans.

  • Alison Arendsee

    We really enjoyed your article. We did almost all of your techniques with our first mini Bernedoodle, Brodie and she is the most adventurous 2 year old. We are getting a little sister for her by the end of the year. I will do as you suggested with the wearing of gear. Brodie loves to see her life jacket, it usually means kayaking is on the agenda but, she balks at booties until she gets used to them. The new baby will be wearing them right out of the gate! Thank you for this cool training session. BTW….your pups are SO cute!!

  • Judit Noyes

    Thanks! I’m getting a new adventure puppy at the end of the month and this has been a great reminder of what I did know and some new things to boot. Just wish Puppy wearables didn’t get too small so quickly.

  • Jerry Toman

    This lady knows dogs, would be good to pay her as a trainer, thanks for the great article.

  • Meghan

    Hi Allison!
    As a trainer, this made my morning. I appreciated this short piece on socialization. Especially appreciated your perspective that socialization is about exposure more than interaction, and some benefits of not interacting, such as when it might cause a heartache or major hassle, crash, stink, etc.
    Keep up the great work. ❤️

  • Kelly Turnbull

    Gorgeous animals. Thank you for sharing the story and the pictures.

  • Barbara Dailey

    Good article on socialization for puppies. This can also benefit dogs that you get that are healthy but already an adult.

  • Kathryn

    Thank you for your puppy socializing article and training tips. I’m 1-month (and counting) away from my miniature Schnauzer puppy’s arrival and I’m getting prepped & RUFF ready for him!

  • Susan Christie

    Thank you. We take Buddy out every day, in the jeep, to see the sights. On our route are ponies, pups, a peacock or two, quail and the best, bunnies – both cottontails and big eared jacks. He now has a semi feral kitty on the front porch, who I took in for his fix and shots. They do a nose to nose at the moment. Buddy has an exquisite nose so finding the kitty trail as it explores around the house and garden is a tails up wagging time. We do the trail of little bone cookies here at the house and toy zoomies in the garden. Plus the occasional dog park visit as it has begun to cool down in the southern desert. Considering some agility equipment. I pay alot of attention to what you are up to and love the three dogs. We are looking for a female pup.

  • Su Lin

    Great socialization tips. Thank You!

  • bill haley

    i appreciate the information and the free advice. we have 2 3 fear old aussies and some of the advice would have been helpful sooner but they have been great dogs. thanks

  • Bronwyn.

    A great article thank you. I’ll definitely keep all this in mind when getting our next (same breed as yours ) pup :)

  • Chuck Betlach

    A question – I have a Golden Retriever and will be getting a new puppy Golden in a few months. When you socialize your puppy do you try to do it with the puppy alone or do you bring your other dogs along?

  • Sam

    This is a really great read. Thank you for the information! I do have some questions, though. Could these training tips be beneficial to a dog that is older and I’d like to take outside more often? We haven’t camped or hiked in a couple of years (life happened unexpectedly) and I really want to get him back out. I have the patience, but I worry about his anxiety and safety. He also has three legs and exhausts a bit quicker than usual, but I’d love for him to become a crag/SUP/kayak/camp/hike/all-around outdoor pup with me on my adventures when those kick up again with the cooler weather. Thank you!

  • jennifer mcconnell

    That’s fantastic advice! Thank you.

  • Patsy

    Difficult to get our pup out until after his last Parvo shot at 16 weeks.
    I have asked neighbors and friends to come and visit with Louie our GSD.
    In fact we make appointments!

    Social distancing in our back yard.
    All spray the soles of their shoes prior. Bottle on front porch. As do we after being out.
    This seems to really help all of us. Two and four footed alike!

  • Linda

    Thank you. I have been on the fence about getting a puppy due to the virus. I am now rethinking this. Your ideas will help for sure.

  • Charles Cade

    I enjoyed and appreciated your article. The theme of adapting to change as training standard is a constant of reality. Thank you.

  • Scott

    Great advice. Thanks.

  • Austin Cox

    Love the article! Would also like to hear about lessening my pup’s separation anxiety in a covid world – as I won’t be working from home forever and want him to be alright being on his own, while also getting our necessary time in now! Love my Wirehaired Pointing Griffon pup, Walter!

  • Suzanne Cardiff

    Great message in this article! And so fun to see. I too am doing the same for a shelter dog I’m training who can be reactive to strangers. She has her own social distance requirement. The hardest part is people who do not respect that. But having that rule to enforce has opened up good opportunities for exposure and practicing being comfortable around strangers.
    Also in the beginning of all this when everyone was at home it was an amazing opportunity to go on adventures around town and for dogs to experience other things in our world without the crowds.