In ‘When Can Puppies Go Outside’ we look at why opinions vary on the right age for puppies to go outside for the first time.
We’ll look at finding a balance between puppy vaccination safety and socialization. And help you choose the right time to take your Lab puppy out into the big wide world.
- The argument for keeping puppies at home
- The argument for taking puppies out
- How can I take my puppy out safely?
- When can my puppy go to puppy class?
- Can my new puppy go in the yard or garden?
- When can I take my puppy for a walk?
- How can I socialise my puppy at home?
- When can I take my puppy out – the compromise?
- When can puppies go outside – summary
Taking your new puppy out
When you bring your new puppy home you’ll be looking forward to showing him off to all your friends and family
And taking him out for walks.
But you might have been given conflicting advice.
You may have been told to keep your puppy at home until after his vaccinations are complete at 14 weeks old
To complicate matters, you may also have been told that outings are vital for key aspects of puppy socialization
And that these outings needs to be completed before your puppy is 13 weeks old
Obviously you can’t follow both these pieces of advice at the same time, but don’t worry, there is a solution. And we’ll talk about that in a moment.
Let’s look at the vaccination v socialization issues first.
When can puppies go outside – waiting for vaccinations
There are two main reasons that puppy owners want to get out and about with their puppies.
The first is because they know it’s important for puppy socialization. The second and much more common reason is because taking your puppy out is fun!
You didn’t go to all that trouble to buy a puppy, just to sit at home for several weeks, and you want to show him off to your friends, and include him in family outings
Why do new puppies have to stay at home?
The reason many vets and breeders will advise you to keep your puppy at home until after his vaccinations have taken effect, is because they want to protect him from infectious diseases.
And not without good cause.
Because he won’t have full immunity against disease until that point
Puppies are vulnerable to infection. Regular outbreaks of parvovirus still occur in most parts of the world. And parvovirus kills. This is a big problem for puppies.
Not to mention all the other dog diseases that are still prevalent in many countries.
The problem with staying at home
However, there is a problem with the traditional advice to ‘stay at home with your puppy’, because lack of socialization kills puppies too. We’ll look at that in a moment.
How do puppies catch diseases?
New puppies can’t catch diseases from you or your family, because most germs that can infect a dog, don’t infect humans, and vice versa.
However, there is a risk that your puppy can catch diseases from other dogs.
The other dog could be a carrier ( a dog that can infect other dogs without becoming ill himself) , or he could be incubating a disease but not showing symptoms yet.
Even more importantly your puppy can catch some diseases just by sniffing or licking the urine or faeces of an infected dog.
And we all know how dogs like to sniff and lick at things on the ground.
Because increasingly nowadays, experts are recommending taking your puppy out right from the day you bring him home, under certain strict conditions.
Why do new puppies need to go out?
You may be wondering what all the fuss is about, and why puppies need to go out before their vaccinations are complete.
If other dogs and places that they have pooped are so risky, why take a puppy out at all.
You might well think it would be a whole lot easier just to keep your puppy at home for a few weeks, especially once he starts to get heavy. After all, carrying a 22lb puppy around is no joke!
But here’s the thing. Many dogs die every year because they become aggressive and their owners have to take the terrible decision to have them put to sleep.
Thousands of people are bitten by dogs every year. Postmen are attacked, guide dogs are attacked, and many children get bitten.
Each year a few people die as a result of dog attacks. And hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs are destroyed for aggressive behaviour. Most of these sad situations could have been avoided.
Clearly, aggression in dogs is a problem. Both for the dogs, and the people that they bite. And we now know a great way to prevent aggression in most dogs if we start when they are puppies
Why dogs bite
The simple fact is that almost all dog bites are caused by fear. Confident, friendly dogs don’t bite people.
So, one of the best things you can do for your dog, is to bring him up to be confident and friendly. And the way dogs become friendly is through a process called socialization.
“All labs are friendly” you might say, but this just isn’t true. Tiny puppies normally love everyone. They are happy to be cuddled and petted by anyone who happens to be passing. That changes before they are three months old.
Nature has designed puppies to become very fearful of strange objects, people, animals, and situations, as soon as they are physically capable of exploring alone, at around four months of age.
This fearfulness was a good strategy in the wolves from which our dogs are descended, in a world where strangers might well view a puppy as a snack. Most wild animals are extremely nervous of strangers in this way.
But fearfulness is not such a good idea for a dog living in a modern human society. Whilst a poorly socialised puppy will love his family and close friends, he will consider the rest of the world to be a threat.
And dogs that feel threatened, are likely to become aggressive and even to bite.
The importance of socialization
The truth is that many puppies, even many lovely Labrador puppies, begin to lose their love of strangers after eight – ten weeks old, unless they have been socialized.
By thirteen weeks, a Labrador that has been shut away at home will start to become a little nervous of anyone he hasn’t met before. And he will begin to get anxious in situations he hasn’t come across before
The more people your puppy meets, and the more places your puppy goes in the first twelve weeks of his life, the less likely he is to be fearful.
Poorly socialised dogs are often aggressive. And biting or aggression tends to buy a dog a one-way ticket to the pound.
Some dogs need a lot more socialising than others. Temperaments vary, and it is not possible to be sure what temperament your dog has inherited at this stage.
Almost all eight week old puppies that have been raised responsibly will appear friendly right now. But this is not an indicator of how friendly they will be in the future. It is important not to be lulled into a false sense of security by this.
Deliberate and extensive socialisation is the only way to be as sure as you can be, that your dog will be free from fearfulness and from the aggression that often arises as a result.
Whether or not you decide to carry your puppy everywhere, or to risk putting him down on the ground, time is short. So you do need to plan your puppy’s socialisation and to execute the plan quickly and with determination.
It isn’t difficult to do, and you’ll find instructions here. How to socialise your puppy.
The opportunity for socialisation is all but over by the time the puppy’s vaccination cover is complete.
Can’t I socialize my puppy at home?
In the past, when almost all vets recommended puppies stayed at home for thirteen weeks, some owners diligently tried to socialize their puppies at home
But this is very difficult to achieve effectively
You would literally need to invite dozens of different people to come to your home during the four weeks between eight and twelve weeks old. And even then, there is no way you would cover all the possibilities.
Covering all the bases
You need your puppy to meet people in wheelchairs, people in uniform, old people, children of different ages, especially small children.
You need to cover all the bases.
Your puppy needs to see trains, and buses, to hear the wind blowing and feel the rain in his face.
He needs to be exposed to all aspects of the hurly burly of our human world.
For this reason, and to secure a safe future for your puppy, you really do need to take him out as much as you possibly can for those crucial first few weeks of life.
When can I take my puppy out? – It’s a compromise
So, if puppies need to go out to be socialized, and puppies need to stay home to be safe from disease, what is a poor puppy parent supposed to do?
The answer is usually a compromise
Veterinary professionals are naturally focused on your dog’s health, and some vets do still recommend keeping your puppy at home until he is fourteen weeks or so old.
But as we have become more aware of the risks of poor socialisation, canine behaviourists, dog trainers and experienced breeders have increasingly been recommending that new puppy owners take their puppies out and about from an early age.
The consensus is that the risk of poor socialisation outweighs the risks of disease.
It isn’t an easy decision for you to make, especially if your vet takes the more traditional view. And it is something of a compromise.
However, it’s a compromise that is increasingly becoming the norm.
I personally recommend that you take your new puppy out and about, right from the time you bring him home. And it is essential that you do this in a way that minimises the risk to your puppy
How can I take my puppy out safely?
We talked earlier about the way in which puppies catch diseases. Either from direct contact with other dogs, or through contact with their urine or faeces.
If you are going to take your puppy out in public, and many experts now believe that you should, then you need to take some precautions. You must not simply put him down on the ground and let him take his chances.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to follow, to minimise the risks of your puppy becoming infected while you take him out and help him discover that the world is a friendly place.
Until your puppy’s vaccination cover is complete, for maximum safety
- Do NOT place your puppy on the ground in places where other dogs have pooped or urinated
- Do NOT allow your puppy to play with strange dogs, no matter how friendly they seem
- Do NOT allow your puppy to play with your friend’s dogs unless those dogs are fully vaccinated
- DO carry your puppy everywhere you go unless you are certain the ground is not contaminated
- DO consider letting your puppy attend a well supervised puppy class if he and the other puppies have all had their first vaccinations, especially if you have no friends with safe vaccinated dogs for him to meet.
A study in America found that puppies attending puppy class with other vaccinated puppies were no more likely to get sick than any other puppy.
Carrying your puppy outdoors
Labrador puppies get heavy quite quickly. So for those outings where we cannot put the puppy down on the ground, a lot of use some kind of shoulder bag to put the puppy in. This takes the strain off your back and leaves your hands free
Nowadays you can buy designer back packs to carry small dogs around and some Lab puppies will fit in them for a week or two
The XL version of the Nicrew back pack pictured near the beginning of the article, claims to hold pups up dogs up to 22lbs in weight, but if your pup is average-to-large for his age, you’ll probably need to improvise with a large shoulder bag after the first couple of weeks. Or you may be able to find a sling like this one below, that will fit your pup.
When can my puppy start puppy class?
Check with your vet, but in many areas, puppy classes will take puppies after their first vaccination.
A study was published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association in spring 2013, and looks at the frequency of parvovirus infections in puppies that attended puppy classes, compared with puppies that did not.
The puppies had all had their first vaccination (which can be done at eight weeks old) but were not fully immunised. It found no increase in the risk of parvo in the puppies that were mixing regularly with other puppies in class, compared with ‘stay at home’ puppies.
When can I take my puppy out in the yard?
I have talked about the need to carry your puppy and keep him off the ground. But what about at home on your own property?
I have had a number of questions recently from people that are concerned about letting their Labrador puppy out into their own garden or yard, before their vaccinations are complete.
They have often been told on the one hand to take the puppy outside often for potty training purposes. And on the other hand not to put their puppy down on the ground at all, in case he catches something.
No wonder they are confused and worried that the puppy might catch an infection in the process
This is especially true of people that know, or suspect, that wild animals enter their property at night.
Will wild animals infect my new puppy?
The disease that most dog owners are concerned about is Canine Parvovirus.
In the UK for example, foxes are susceptible to this disease and the virus can survive for some time in infected faeces.
So the inevitable conclusion is that there is a possibility, however remote, that a sick wild fox could defaecate in the garden, where a puppy plays, and that a puppy could them be contaminated by contact with this ‘fox poo’.
While no-one, least of all your vet, will be willing to guarantee your puppy won’t get sick from wild touching the faeces of a wild animal in his own yard or garden, it is important to keep this in perspective.
The risks may vary depending on where you live, but for most of us they are likely to be very low indeed. And they need to be balanced against the risks of keeping your puppy isolated indoors until his vaccinations are complete
Talk to your vet
Talk to your vet, and listen to any information he may have about your particular location. If there is an epidemic amongst the local wildlife, then you may need to take extra precautions. But in most cases, this won’t apply to your puppy.
Your vet may naturally be more concerned about the risks of a puppy catching parvovirus tomorrow, due to his advice today, than by the risks of the dog biting a child two years down the line, for which he is most unlikely to get the blame.
But, you need to weigh up the likely risks are of your Labrador puppy catching parvovirus in his back yard, against the risks to keeping your puppy isolated indoors until his vaccinations are complete.
The risks are poor socialisation, less fun, and slower potty training and recall training progress
Learning about outside
A puppy raised in the sterile and controlled environment of your kitchen may be fearful when exposed to the wind and the rain.
He will be unfamiliar with the feel of grass under his paws, of sunshine and soil, birds singing, aeroplanes passing overhead and all the other unimaginable delights and thrills of simply being outside.
I think being outside is an important part of early learning and wouldn’t want my puppies to miss out on this.
Even if you carry your puppy outside many times a day to experience these things, your potty training progress is going to be delayed.
You’ll need to teach him to relieve himself on puppy pads to begin with and then teach him all over again, how to use the garden.
Early puppy recall training involves moving away from your puppy while he trots after you.
This process of getting a puppy to follow you, is the basis of the more formal recall training that you will be doing later on.
It’s important get your puppy following you around in all kinds of different outdoor locations while he is small if you possibly can.
This will stand you in good stead later, when he is more independent.
Your garden or yard is the ideal place to begin.
So we have to try and keep a balance. To accept that there is perhaps a tiny risk to a puppy being put down in your back yard, just as there is a risk in living.
Most dog owners feel that this risk is an acceptable one, and that the pay-off of a normal, healthy puppy upbringing during those vulnerable weeks, is worthwhile.
For these reasons, and because it makes housetraining an easier, smoother journey, the majority of puppy owners do allow their puppies into the garden from their very first days at home.
When can I take my puppy out for a walk?
In most cases, you can put your puppy down on the ground in public places one week after his final shots. Check with your vet though as different vaccines may come with different instructions.
Make sure your puppy wears a well-fitting harness that he can’t wriggle out of for these early outings
Because of the risks in putting a puppy down on contaminated ground, unless you are fortunate enough to have access to private land, you really should not think about taking your puppy for ‘walks’ before this point.
But the risk of disease is not the only reason.
Puppy exercise requirements
The fact is, puppies do not need nearly as much exercise as older dogs. And while we enjoy taking them, small puppies don’t actually need walks in a formal sense.
So while getting out and about with your puppy and introducing him to as many new experiences as you can is important.
Making him walk for mile after mile is probably not a good idea.
When can puppies go outside – Summary
‘When can a puppy go out’ is an issue on which experts disagree. In the past, vets all insisted that puppies should stay at home until about one week after the puppy had had his final shots.
Many older puppy books still recommend this.
Keeping puppies at home is a good way of making sure that they don’t come into contact with other dogs, or their waste products.
But attitudes towards taking puppies out are changing. The chances are you will still meet some people that advise you to keep your puppy at home. But most experts today recommend you get your puppy out and about – with care.
Some breeders go even further and say that provided the puppy has had its first vaccination, you should take him out and about, putting him on the ground as normal, and not worry about carrying him everywhere.
And as your puppy gets heavier, it is certainly tempting to do this.
If you decide to play it safe and carry your puppy everywhere until he is done with his vaccinations, a shoulder bag will help take the strain!
More information on puppies
For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.
Published in April 2014, the Happy Puppy covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.
The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.
When can puppies go outside has been extensively revised and updated for 2017