Your new puppy is precious, and you want to get everything right. Including striking the balance between socializing them and keeping them safe from infection before their second round of vaccinations. In this article we are going to take you carefully through how to make the right choice, and help you decide exactly when to take your puppy out in public. We’ll also give you some important do’s and don’ts for those first trips into the big wide world!
Standard advice used to be that puppies can go outside in public places when they are fully protected by their jabs, at about 16 weeks old. But this may not be the best advice for your puppy. And it could even impact negatively on the rest of their lives! That’s because puppies need socialization, and socialization only works well during the first few weeks they are at home with you.
Balancing Socialization and Safety
People often ask us “When can puppies go outside safely, for walks or to meet other dogs?” But it’s not as straight forward as a walk in the dog park, because the real issue surrounds socialization. The process of introducing a puppy to lots of new experiences to reduce the chances of them being afraid as they grow up.
If you’ve heard about the importance of socialization, but know that puppies aren’t safe from disease before their second jabs, you are probably wondering how you are going to socialize your puppy without taking them outside. And whether you have to keep them indoors at all times, or if it’s okay for visitors to bring their vaccinated dogs to meet your new friend. We’ll be looking at the answers to those questions and much more, here in this guide.
Keeping Puppies Indoors
We can’t talk about new puppies without mentioning socialization. You’ve probably heard that all puppies need to be socialized to prevent them becoming fearful and unfriendly when they’re older. This is absolutely true. And so, many experts feel that you shouldn’t keep your puppy shut away from the world for those first sixteen weeks of their lives.
Other experts disagree, and feel that the risk of infection over-rides the risks of poor or inadequate socialization. And we’ll look at this conflict of opinions to help you decide what is best for your puppy. The bottom line is that we all want to keep our puppies safe. And that’s what today’s article is all about.
Click In This Box To Jump Down The Article
- 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 socialize my puppy at home?
- When can I take my puppy out – the compromise?
- When can puppies go outside – Summary
Taking a puppy out is fun! You didn’t get a puppy to sit at home with her for several weeks. You want to show her off and include her in family outings.
Why Do Puppies Have to Stay at Home?
Some vets and breeders advise keeping your puppy home until after the vaccinations have taken effect. This is to protect her from infectious diseases.
Vets often tell owners to keep their puppy at home until one week after the final vaccination. And not without cause—your puppy 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, especially puppies. Not to mention all the other dog diseases that are still prevalent in many countries.
The Problem with Staying Home
However, there is a problem with the traditional advice to keep your puppy at home until vaccinations are complete. Lack of socialization kills puppies too. We’ll look at that in more detail in a moment. First, let’s look at how puppies catch diseases. This information is important to keep your puppy safe.
How Do Puppies Catch Diseases?
In general puppies don’t catch diseases from humans. This is because most germs that can infect a dog can’t infect people, and vice versa. However, your puppy can catch diseases from other dogs. And other dogs don’t need to appear sick in order to be contagious and make your puppy ill.
The other dog could be a carrier (a dog that can infect other dogs without becoming ill). Or the other dog could be incubating a disease and not yet showing symptoms.
Even the Ground is a Risk
More importantly, your puppy can catch some diseases by sniffing or licking where an infected dog has urinated or defecated. And we all know how dogs like to sniff and lick at things on the ground. So, your puppy is at risk from exposure to unvaccinated dogs and pee and poop from an infected dog. Let’s keep these risks in mind.
So What Should You Do?
So when can puppies be around other dogs? Increasingly, experts are recommending taking your puppy out right from the day you bring her home but under strict conditions.
If you decide to take your puppy out visiting before she’s had all her shots, you’ll need to follow the safety guidelines set out below. But first let’s look at why you might decide to take that risk!
Why Do New Puppies Need to Go Out?
You may be wondering what the fuss is about and why puppies need to go out before their vaccinations are complete. If other dogs, and places they have pooped, are so risky, why take a puppy out at all? It might seem a lot easier just to keep the puppy home for a few weeks, especially once she starts to get heavy. After all, carrying a 22-pound puppy is no joke. (Although, a puppy sling will help take the strain).
But here’s the problem. Many dogs die every year because they become aggressive. Their owners have to make the heart-breaking and terrible decision to have them put to sleep.
Dogs bite thousands of people every year. Letter carriers are attacked, guide dogs are attacked, and in particular, many children are bitten. Each year, about a dozen people die as a result of dog attacks. And hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs are destroyed because of aggressive behavior. Most of these sad situations could be avoided.
Clearly, aggression in dogs is a problem both for the dogs and the people that they bite. Yet we now know a great way to prevent aggression in most dogs if we start when they are puppies.
Why Do 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 her 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.
What makes a dog nervous
Nature designed puppies to become fearful of strange objects, people, animals and situations. This happens once they are capable of exploring alone, at around four months of age.
That fearfulness was a good strategy in the wolves from which our dogs descended. They lived in a world where strangers might view a puppy as a snack. For that reason, most wild animals are nervous of strangers in this way.
Why This is an Issue
Fearfulness is not good for a dog living in modern human society. A poorly socialized puppy will love his family and close friends, but he will consider the rest of the world to be a threat.
Dogs that feel threatened are likely to become aggressive, lunging and barking at other dogs when you are walking them on a leash, and even to bite. This is not how you want your puppy to grow up.
The Importance of Socialization
Many puppies, even lovely Labrador puppies, lose their love of strangers between ten and twelve weeks old unless they are socialized. By thirteen weeks, a Lab that has been kept at home will be nervous of strangers. He will also be anxious in situations he hasn’t come across before. And no matter how well bred this dog is, he will be less safe around kids, than a dog that has been effectively socialized. These are powerful reasons to take small puppies out and about in the world.
The more people and places your puppy experiences in the first twelve weeks of life, the less likely she is to be fearful.
Badly Socialized Dogs
Poorly socialized dogs are often aggressive, and aggression tends to buy a dog a one-way ticket to the animal shelter. If you have a reactive or aggressive dog, you can find out more about dealing with this issue here.
All Dogs are Different
Some dogs need more socializing 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. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by this. This is not an indicator of how friendly they will be in the future.
Deliberate and extensive socialization is the only way to be as sure as you can be that your dog will be free from fearfulness and the aggression that often results. Whether you carry your puppy everywhere or to risk putting her down on the ground, time is short. So you need to plan your puppy’s socialization and execute the plan quickly and with determination.
It isn’t difficult, and you’ll find instructions here. How to socialize your puppy. The opportunity for socialization is all but over by the time the initial vaccination cycle is complete. So, those are the arguments for taking your puppy outside from the tender age of 8 weeks. But which is the greater risk to your puppy? Disease or aggression? We’ll look at that in a moment, but first, what are the alternatives?
Can I Socialize my Puppy at Home?
In the past, when most vets recommended that puppies stay home for their first thirteen weeks, some owners tried to socialize their puppies at home.
Socializing your puppy at home is important, and there are steps you can take at home that will help build your puppy’s confidence. But these are not a replacement for socialization out in the world. Inviting dozens of different people to your home during the weeks that your puppy is between eight and twelve weeks old isn’t practical. You couldn’t cover all the possibilities.
Covering All the Bases
It’s important for your puppy to meet a wide variety of people. That includes people in wheelchairs and in uniforms, old people and children of different ages, especially small children. Your puppy needs to meet people of different ethnicities, people in strange hats, people with loud voices, large men, cuddly people and much more than this.
In addition, your puppy needs to experience the sights, scents and sounds of trains, trucks and buses. She needs to hear the wind blow and feel the rain in her face. In short, you must expose your puppy to all aspects of the hurly-burly of our human world. You simply cannot bring the whole world into your living room. To secure a safe future for your puppy, you need to take her out as much as you can during those crucial weeks of life.
Puppies need socializing. But they also need to stay home and safe from disease. So what can you do? When can I take my puppy for a walk? The answer is usually a compromise.
Veterinarians focus on your dog’s health, and some still recommend keeping your puppy home until she is fourteen weeks old or so. As they have become aware of the risks of poor socialization, canine behaviorists, many veterinarias, trainers and breeders increasingly recommend that owners take puppies out from an early age.
Socialization Vs Infection
The consensus is that the risk of poor socialization outweighs the risks of disease. It isn’t an easy decision to make, especially if your vet takes the more traditional view. But we recommend that early socialization is your priority.
That means taking your puppy out and about, right from the time you bring her home. And it is essential that you do this in a way that minimizes the risks to your puppy. So if your puppy needs to go out into the world, how can you reduce the risk of infection, and help to make sure she doesn’t catch some nasty disease?
When Can I Take my Puppy out in Public?
Current thinking is that you can and should take your puppy out in public as soon as they join your family, provided you have taken precautions to protect them against disease. Either from direct contact with other dogs or through contact with their urine, feces or surfaces where these have been.
Most experts recommend that you do not put your puppy down on the ground and let her take her chances. And that you avoid contact with other potentially unvaccinated dogs until your puppy is vaccinated.
The Do’s and Don’ts
Here are do’s and don’ts to minimize the risks of your puppy becoming infected while you help her discover that the world is a friendly place.
Until your puppy’s vaccination cover is complete, for maximum safety:
- DON’T put your puppy on the ground where other dogs have pooped or urinated
- DO carry your puppy unless you are certain the ground is not contaminated
- DON’T allow your puppy to play with strange dogs, no matter how friendly they seem
- DO consider letting your puppy attend a well-supervised puppy class if all puppies attending have had their first vaccinations. This is especially important if you have no friends with vaccinated dogs for her to meet.
- DON’T allow your puppy to play with your friend’s dogs unless those dogs are fully vaccinated
When can puppies go outside if they are being carried?
Labrador puppies get heavy quickly. For outings where you cannot put the puppy down, a lot of people use a shoulder bag to carry the puppy.
This takes the strain off your back and leaves your hands free.
You can buy designer backpacks to carry small dogs, and some Lab puppies will fit in them for a week or two.
Backpacks and Slings for Dogs
The XL version of the Nicrew backpack* claims to hold pups up dogs up to 22 pounds.
Or you may be able to find a sling that will fit your pup.
They all vary, so check the sizes and measure your puppy carefully.
When Can my Puppy Start Puppy Class?
Check with your vet, but in many areas, puppy classes will take puppies after their first set of vaccinations.
A study published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association in spring 2013 looked at the frequency of parvovirus in puppies that attended puppy classes compared with puppies that did not.
The puppies had their first vaccination (which can be done at eight weeks) but were not fully immunized.
Researchers found no increase in the risk of parvo in puppies going to class compared to stay at home puppies.
When Can I Take my Puppy Out in the Yard?
When can puppies go outside at home?
We talked about the need to carry your puppy and keep her off the ground. But what about at home on your own property?
Pet owners may be concerned about letting their Labrador puppy out into their own yard before vaccinations are complete.
Even When Training!
They have been told on the one hand to take the puppy outside often for potty training.
But on the other hand, not to put the puppy on the ground in case she catches something.
No wonder they’re confused and worried!
This is especially true of people that know or suspect that wild animals enter their property at night.
Can 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 feces.
So there is a possibility, however remote, that a sick fox could defecate where a puppy plays and that puppy could be contaminated by contact with the fox poop.
While no one can guarantee your puppy won’t get sick from the feces of a wild animal in your yard, it is important to keep this in perspective.
Risks vary depending on where you live, but for most of us, they are low.
And they need to be balanced against the risks of keeping your puppy isolated indoors until her vaccinations are complete.
Talk to Your Vet
Talk to your vet, and listen to any information they have about risks in your location.
If there is an epidemic among local wildlife, you may need to take extra precautions. But in most cases, this won’t apply to your puppy.
Your vet may be more concerned about the current risk of parvovirus than by the potential future risk of the dog biting someone.
But you need to weigh the risk of your puppy catching parvovirus in the backyard against the risk of not socializing her until vaccinations are complete.
Those risks are poor socialization, less fun, and slower progress with both potty training and recall training.
Learning About Outside
Puppies are raised in the sterile and controlled environment of your kitchen. So, your puppy may fear wind and rain when outside.
She will be unfamiliar with the feel of grass, sunshine and soil.
The sounds of birds singing and airplanes overhead may be frightening. Not to mention all the other delights and thrills of being outside.
Being outside is an important part of early learning and puppies shouldn’t miss out on it.
Even if you carry your puppy outside many times a day to experience these things, potty-training progress will be delayed by not being on the ground.
You’ll need to teach her to relieve herself on puppy pads* to start. Later, you’ll have to teach her all over again to relieve herself in the yard.
This may be inevitable if you go out to work, but if you can, you’ll both benefit from teaching her to pee and poop outdoors from the start.
Early recall training involves moving away from your puppy while she trots after you.
Getting your puppy to follow you is the basis of more formal recall training that you will be doing later on.
It’s important to get your puppy following you around in different outdoor locations while she’s small if you can.
This will put you in good stead later when she is more independent.
Your garden or yard is the ideal place to begin this practice.
For these reasons, the majority of puppy owners allow their puppies in the yard from their first days at home.
When Can I Take My Puppy for a Walk?
In most cases, you can start putting your puppy on the ground in public one week after her final shots.
Check with your vet though, different vaccines may have different instructions.
Make sure your puppy wears a well-fitting harness that she can’t wriggle out of* for these early outings.
Puppy Exercise Requirements
Puppies do not need nearly as much exercise as older dogs. While we enjoy taking them, small puppies don’t need walks in a formal sense.
In fact, many experts feel that excessive exercise and long walks are harmful to small puppies.
Getting out and about with your puppy and introducing her to new experiences is important, but making her walk for miles is not a good idea.
When Can Puppies Go Outside – Summary
Many older puppy books still recommend this. Keeping puppies at home is a good way to make sure they don’t come into contact with other dogs or their waste products, which can make your puppy sick.
The current view is that puppies need to be exposed to a variety of people and experiences to prevent fearfulness and aggression, from eight weeks old.
Some breeders go even further and say that provided the puppy has had its first vaccination, you should take her out and not worry about carrying her and keeping her off the ground.
As your puppy gets heavier, this is certainly tempting!
If you decide to play it safe and carry your puppy until she is done with her vaccinations, a shoulder bag will help take the strain!
More Information on Puppies
Take a look at some cute puppy names here!
Plus, find out more about socializing your puppy in the Puppies section of our website. And you can find out all about your puppy’s vaccination schedule in our FAQ here.
For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy, don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.
And for in-depth puppy support and guidance you can join Pippa’s Puppy Parenting course over at Dogsnet. Access to Pippa’s private members forum is included in the course purchase.
The course will help you prepare your home for the new arrival and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialization and early obedience. And it will help you to build a wonderful bond with your puppy
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Affiliate link disclosure: Links in this article marked with an * are affiliate links, and we may receive a small commission if you purchase these products. However, we selected them for inclusion independently, and all of the views expressed in this article are our own.
Serpell J. & Jagoe J.A. “Early experience and the development of behaviour” The Domestic Dog, 1995.
Freedman D.G., King J.A. & Elliot O. “Critical period in the social development of dogs” Science, 1961.
Duxbury M.M., Jackson J.A., Line S.W., Anderson R.K. “Evaluation of association between retention in the home and attendance at puppy socialization classes” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2003.
Miller, D.D., et al. “Factors associated with the decision to surrender a pet to an animal shelter” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1996.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website