4 Tips for Socializing a Sick Puppy

I could tell something wasn’t right with foster pup Cranberry minutes after bringing him home. As he coughed and wheezed, my mind instantly turned to socialization.

Socialization is a bit of an emergency with any puppy, but even more so if your puppy is ill. Cranberry’s cough and runny nose severely limited the number of places he could safely be taken, and since he didn’t feel well it was important to keep socialization sessions very short so as not to tax his limited energy reserved or already-stressed immune system.


The early experiences a puppy has, both good and bad, shape who that puppy becomes. Along with your puppy’s genetic package, socialization experiences form your pup’s opinions about new people, places, sounds, sights, and other animals. The socialization window – that magical period of time when puppies are especially open to new experiences – begins to close around twelve weeks, and is over by sixteen weeks for the majority of puppies. While socialization needs to continue through adolescence and into adulthood, negative experiences or a lack of socialization during the first critical months of a dog’s life will forever change or stunt the development of that puppy’s brain. At eight weeks of age, simply waiting for Cranberry to recover before beginning the socialization process wasn’t an option.

So, how can an ill puppy be socialized?

No paws on the ground: With a taxed immune system, Cranberry was more vulnerable to infectious diseases – not to mention potentially contagious to other dogs. This meant that it was important not to expose him to areas where other dogs had or would walk. Whenever we went on socialization field trips, Cranberry experienced the world from the safety of my arms. He was not set down anywhere away from home until he had been on antibiotics for a week, was no longer showing signs of illness, and was current on vaccinations.

Think outside the pet store: Lots of businesses are happy to welcome a clean and friendly puppy in his owner’s arms. Furthermore, the employees at book shops, craft and hobby stores, and hardware retailers are much less likely to spread puppy germs on their hands or clothing. And of course, airborne infections can still spread even to or from a pup in arms, so pet stores are simply not safe options for most ill puppies. Luckily, employees at our local banks and business offices where quite happy to snuggle eight-week-old Cranberry and feed him treats.

Park it: While it was much too cold in Minnesota for southern-bred Cranberry in the early days, he was quite happy to watch the world go by from the heated comfort of my car. Bring your pup on field trips to the local grocery store and pet shop parking lots. Parking garages can also provide wonderful socialization opportunities in the form of new people, smells, staircases, traffic, and even elevators.

Socialize outside the species: This one requires a bit of checking with your vet, however most common puppy diseases are not contagious to other species. In addition to introducing your puppy to lots and lots of new people, consider letting him meet friendly pets of a variety of species. Cranberry met my gerbils at home and also sniffed cats, guinea pigs, turtles, finches, and even some curious koi as large as him who came to the top of the aquarium to touch noses. Dog-dog socialization beyond interactions with my two adult females had to wait until he had recovered, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be learning lots about how to relate to other animals in the meantime.

1010147_10155035006560001_7249262806007038995_nI’m happy to report that Cranberry’s cough and runny nose have resolved, and his energy level is now that of a typical playful puppy. He’s well enough to receive his next needed vaccine at this point, and will soon be joining me at training classes and playgroups to catch up on his dog-dog socialization. Some thoughtful socialization in the meantime has kept him on track with the developmental needs of any puppy, and I’m proud of the friendly, affectionate little ten-week-old he’s become. As long as his future adopters* commit to attending puppy classes with him and continuing his positive experiences with others into adulthood, I expect he’s going to mature into a lovely, solid dog who will be a joy for years to come. And isn’t that the point?

Have you ever had a puppy become ill? How did you handle that pup’s socialization needs while he or she recovered? Please share your stories and tips in the comments section below

*Cranberry is currently available for adoption and looking for a wonderful home! If you live in the Minnesota area and are interested in adding this charming boy to your life, you can apply to adopt him through the rescue’s website here.

6 responses to “4 Tips for Socializing a Sick Puppy

  1. I wish I had these tips when we adopted our 8-week old Aussie/Corgi puppy mill rescue 2.5 years ago. At our first vet check-up, I learned he had Giardia, contagious to other animals and even myself (an immune-compromised human). It took 2+ rounds of medication to get rid of the parasite, so our admittance to puppy class was severely delayed. While I’ve been told by his Behavioural Vet that genetics likely played a more prominent role in his Fear-reactive generalized anxiety, I can’t help but think lack of exposure to EVERYTHING when we first got him didn’t help. :-(

  2. Barbara Korry DVM

    Health alert…some bacterial causes of canine infectious respiratory disease are very dangerous to guinea pigs and gerbils! Please don’t bring a dog with respiratory disease in contact with these animals!

  3. Great tips! Socialization can be a challenge with a sick dog and, unfortunately, I think many people think they can’t do socialization.

    I love that you were able to take Cranberry to your local bank and business offices. There are SO many places that puppies can visit other than the pet store. And honestly, a crowded pet store probably isn’t the best place for a young pup anyways.

  4. Reblogged this on Dexter The Corso and commented:
    Nice article.
    The same thinking can be applied to puppies who haven’t received all their shots and are not allowed to go for normal walks. Most people keep the puppy at home or backyard. However, I believe, they are loosing valuable and essential socialization period of dog’s life. Some people, due to lack of shots and advice of the vet do not take puppies out in public until 4 months. At this point the dog is already forming it’s view on the world and have missed 2 months of essential socialization. Thus, as article shows, there are ways to socialize the pup even if it cannot be exposed to other dogs and people.
    I have been socializing Dexter by taking him on short walks in the areas away from dogs, but exposed to people, cars and city noises.

  5. Pingback: 4 Tips For You and Your Sick Dog - Big Barker Blog

  6. Pingback: Pickles’ Story | Paws Abilities

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