Even brand new puppies need to go outdoors safely, to meet other dogs, see new places and start to get socialized.
Puppies can go outside from 8 weeks old in your backyard to potty train, exercise, play and learn. But taking them on visits to public places is a little trickier, as new puppies need to be protected from infection.
Vaccinations build a puppy’s immunity, but they don’t work straight away. Meanwhile puppies need to meet people and getting out into the community! Especially if they are from a protective, naturally guarding dog breed.
Today puppy expert Pippa Mattinson explains how to keep your puppy safe from diseases as they adapt to their new life with your family. You’ll find guidelines for when and how to take your puppy out in public, and tips to help you keep them safe until they are fully vaccinated like using backpacks and puppy carriers.
- Puppy shots and vaccinations
- When can puppies go outside for socialization?
- When can puppies go in the backyard?
- Potty training outdoors vs indoors
- When can puppies go outside for exercise or training?
Protecting your puppy from infection is an area where you are quite likely to get conflicting advice. It’s one of those situations where experts, including veterinarians, don’t always agree. That’s because advice to puppy parents has changed in the last few years. So I’ll be giving you the information you need to decide what’s best for your puppy.
When Do Puppies Get Shots?
The first round of puppy shots is given at between 6-8 weeks of age. At this age, the puppy will still have some maternal antibodies.
Those antibodies from their Mom, give your puppy some protection against immunity and wear off gradually once the puppy is weaned at about six weeks. Unfortunately they can also interfere with the vaccine so current trend is to wait till 8 weeks rather than give shots any earlier.
How Many Shots Do Puppies Need?
12 week puppy shots follow four weeks after the first set of puppy shots. And the final shots are given after another four weeks. So that your puppy is usually fully protected by about 16-17 weeks old with three sets of shots altogether.
What Vaccines Do Puppies Need?
Each set of shots will include protection against diseases that commonly attack puppies and older dogs.
The vaccines included will depend on your location so you need to be guided by your vet, but most puppies will receive protection against killer diseases like parvovirus, distemper, leptospirosis and rabies.
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 we now know that this may not be the best advice for your puppy. And it could even cause them harm.
That’s because puppies need socializing, and socialization only works well during the first few weeks of a puppy’s life. It’s what’s called the critical period for socialization, or window for socialization.
When Can Puppies Go Outside For Socialization?
Socialization is the process of introducing a puppy to lots of new experiences to reduce the chances of them being afraid as they grow up. Think of it as taking the ‘wolf’ out of your dog! It’s what makes dogs confident and friendly, instead of wild and fearful.
That window for socialization we talked about earlier is a very special time in the life of every puppy when they are open to making new friends and embracing new experiences.
Puppies that miss out on those new experiences during the window may become fearful and even aggressive in the weeks to come. And the window closes at about the same time your puppy completes their course of vaccinations.
This is pretty inconvenient for us, as puppy parents, but it can’t be helped. So we have to find a balance between preventing infection, and preventing aggression. Because a poorly socialized puppy is at risk from both.
Can I Socialize My Puppy At Home?
Not all dogs that are kept at home for the first 16 weeks are aggressive or unfriendly. And many of us coped when we were required to stay at home for disease control. So it must be possible to socialize a puppy at home right?
Well this is what some experts recommend. They advise that you arrange for dozens of different people to visit your home each week, and expose your puppy to as many new experiences (sights, sounds, and textures). And all this helps.
But it isn’t really a substitute for getting out into the sounds and smells of the world, seeing cars and truck pass by, watching throngs of different people pass by, and the endless opportunities for new experiences that tumble over one another.
When Can Puppies Go Outside?
For those reasons, nowadays, most experts feel that you shouldn’t keep your puppy shut away from the world for those first sixteen weeks of their lives.
So the current advice is to take your puppy outside from the start. But with some very important precautions. And we’ll look at those now. Because if you are going to take your puppy out before their vaccinations are complete, you need to know how to minimize risk and keep them safe.
Let’s look at where the disease risk is greatest first.
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.
Any unvaccinated dog could be a carrier (a dog that can infect other dogs without becoming ill). Or 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 from pee and poop from an infected dog. Let’s keep these risks in mind.
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:
- 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
Keep your puppy safe in your arms where necessary. As your puppy grows, this can be a strain, but there are some tools to help you. Let’s have a look at those.
When Can Puppies Go Outside If They Are Carried?
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.
If your pup is average to large for her age, you’ll probably need to improvise with a large shoulder bag after the first couple of weeks.
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.
This is heartening information. It also supports the view that careful and appropriate socialization does not increase the risk of catching this unpleasant, and often fatal, disease.
When Can Puppies Go Outside In The Yard?
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.
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.
When can Puppies go Outside to Potty?
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.
If you live in a high-risk area and cannot do this, it is important to carry your puppy out as often as you can and in different types of weather.
When Can Puppies Meet Other Dogs?
There are two issues around letting your puppy meet other dogs. One is from an infection risk point of view. The other is from the risk puppies run of being frightened or hurt by other dogs.
The risk of your puppy being infected with a nasty disease by a dog that is fully vaccinated is very low. So in theory, you can let your puppy play with your friends dog in the safety of your home from the very beginning.
But it’s important that you are aware of the other risks of letting puppies play with older dogs, even when there is little risk of infection.
That’s because most older dogs find puppies quite annoying and some may not tolerate puppy impertinence for very long. Others are too rough and boisterous and will knock the puppy over.
Some older dogs are wonderful with puppies, and will lie down and mouth wrestle with the puppy gently. But you do need to supervise closely to make sure that the puppy is not being overwhelmed or scared
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.
If you don’t have access to private land, you should not take your puppy for walks before she is fully vaccinated. Risk of disease is not the only reason.
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
Socialization: The Last Word
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.
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. These are powerful reasons to take small puppies out and about in the world.
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.
When Can Puppies Go Outside
Experts disagree about when it’s best for a puppy to go out. In the past, vets insisted that puppies should stay home until one week after the puppy has had his final shots.
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!
My view is, play it safe and carry your puppy until she is done with her vaccinations, a shoulder bag will help take the strain!
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