Dog parents usually know that socialization and enrichment is important to keep dogs in good physical and psychological condition.
From their point of view, the mental stimulation provided by these things helps engage their brain, stop them from becoming bored as easily - which can lead to all kinds of destructive behaviors - and generally make them happier.
For pet parents, such things - especially good socialization - makes taking their pup out in public easier and safer.
If you live in some areas, you may have seen dog parents out with a stroller, but not a stroller that contains a human baby or toddler, but a puppy or smaller dog.
But should you socialize a puppy in a pet stroller? Does using a pet stroller contribute to environmental enrichment or take away the multiple ways physically touching the ground stimulates dogs mentally by adding complexity?
That's what we are going to tackle in this post and more.
If you ask some dog owners why they are carting around a dog in a pet stroller rather than walking them on the end of a leash, they might tell you that they are doing so to provide them with greater socialization and enrichment. But are they really?
There are some valid reasons to use a stroller for a dog. If the pup is very old, has limited mobility, or is recovering from an injury, a walk in a stroller can be a way to allow them to experience the outdoors, and see other people and pets, if their physical condition means that a walk is not an option.
Doing so can help prevent the depression that sometimes sets in if a once very social and active pup is suddenly confined to their home.
However, some people choose to put a new puppy in a stroller to provide the very important introduction to the world - and all the things in it - that any puppy truly benefits from, from both an enrichment (sensory and social) and behavioral point of view.
It's this trend - which is a growing one - that is more controversial.
Pet Expert Opinions on Puppies in Strollers for Fulfilling Socialization and Enrichment
From an expert's point of view, opinion is somewhat divided. As the trend is a newer one, there is really nothing in the way of research to determine how effective a trip to the park or around the block in a stroller might be for a dog, but many are wary of the idea.
The primary concern is that a dog in a stroller is essentially stuck where he is, and may feel trapped and constrained, and therefore very nervous and/or stressed, which is almost the direct opposite of the things that socialization and enrichment are supposed to achieve.
Allie Bender, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who co-wrote Canine Enrichment for the Real World and works with pets with behavior issues explains:
I think one of the hard things about strollers is that there's no agency. If they're scared they can't move away or perform a lot of the common displacement behaviors.
Agency refers to the ability to exercise control and make choices that would lead to a favorable outcome.
Additionally, if a pup is being pushed around just like a toddler is, with little interaction from their parent, the sounds, sights and smells around them might quickly become overwhelming, or even frustrating, as they can't explore them for themselves in the way they can during a 'normal' leash walk.
There are arguments, primarily from pet parents, that, in their case, a standard leash walk might not be safe, or a viable option on a regular basis.
If a puppy is very small and unvaccinated, they may feel unsafe letting them around larger dogs at a park, as their behavior is unpredictable.
Or they may feel that walking them in a busy, urban area is equally unsafe - and scary - for a puppy and that's the only option regularly available to them.
Alternatives for Puppy Socialization and Enrichment
As we mentioned, everyone, medical experts included, agrees that socialization and enrichment are crucial parts of a puppy's development.
But, if they don't need one for the kinds of physical reasons we detailed earlier, a pet stroller walk is perhaps not the best choice. Taking into account the arguments about puppy safety we mentioned, what are the alternatives?
First of all, it's important to remember that any puppy should not really be walked outside, even in a stroller, until they are properly vaccinated, which is around 12 weeks.
After that, they should be eased into the idea, so a very young puppy probably won't need a long walk.
For additional physical enrichment for your puppy, as they get older - from about three months - toys can be very helpful to enrich dogs’ environments, especially things like snuffle mats that can help a pup develop their senses and begin to put their developing brains to good use.
Watch this video for a DIY dog snuffle mat you can make using strips of fabric.
Toys must be carefully selected and rotated to maintain the same level of enrichment as when they first got them.
Another thing to bear in mind, is providing enriching toys that play to their genetics. For example, providing terriers with sandboxes in the backyard prevents them from destroying property and provides an outlet for for "normal digging behavior".
You should also try to directly play with your puppy at least several times a day for fifteen minutes or so.
If you feel you must occasionally use a stroller for your puppy, do so with lots of direct interaction from you. Talk to them constantly and physically touch them every few minutes. If they seem disturbed by the sights and sounds around them, comfort them and reassure them it's OK.
However, even if you live in a very urban area the increase in the number of dog parks available over the last decade means that there is probably a dog-friendly park closer than you think, and a trip there, with a secure harness on, combined with fun canine enrichment activities at home, will usually be a far more effective way to get your puppy used to his new world and keep him happy and healthy.
For more great puppy enrichment and socialization resources we recommend you check out: