When Can Puppies Go Outside: Guidelines For New Puppy Parents

When Can Puppies Go Outside: Is It Safe To Take Your Puppy Out Yet?

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 and advice to puppy parents has changed in the last few years.

Puppies can go outside from 8 weeks old in your backyard for potty training, exercise and play. But visits to public places are more controversial, as new puppies need to be protected from infection too.

I make sure all my Labradors have their vaccinations, but they take time to build a puppy’s immunity. Meanwhile puppies need to meet people in their community! Especially if they are from a protective dog breed. And this socialization aspect to a puppy’s education is more important than we once thought.

Today I will explain how to keep your puppy safe from diseases as they adapt to their new life with your family. I provide guidelines for when and how to take your puppy out in public, and I’ll give you tips to help you keep them safe until they are fully vaccinated.

When Do Puppies Get Shots?

The first round of puppy shots is given at 6-8 weeks of age. At this age, the puppy will still have some maternal antibodies. Different veterinarians may use different brands of vaccine with different schedules, and this is why some puppies are vaccinated before they go to their new homes. And with other puppies you will need to get your own veterinarian to give the first shots.

Those antibodies from their Mom, give your puppy some immunity to diseases, but wear off gradually once the puppy is weaned at six weeks. Before your pup is weaned the antibodies in their mother’s milk can interfere with the vaccine.

My own vet won’t use the vaccines that can be given at six weeks as they once lost a litter of puppies to parvovirus after using this protocol. So when I sell a litter of puppies, they go to their new homes unvaccinated and receive their first shots in their new homes.

When Can Puppies Go Outside: Is It Safe To Take Your Puppy Out Yet?

How Many Shots Do Puppies Need?

Again, it depends on the protocol and brand of vaccine used by your veterinarian, but usually, 12 week puppy shots follow four weeks after the first set of puppy shots. The final shots are given after another four weeks. Your puppy is 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.

Your veterinarian will pick the vaccines included depending on your location, 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, between about 14-16 weeks old. This is the advice I and other breeders would give thirty or forty years ago. But we now know that this may not be the best advice for your puppy.

That’s because puppies need socializing, and socialization only works well during the first few weeks of a puppy’s life. It’s the critical period for socialization, or window for socialization.

labrador puppy carried in arms

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 adults. I appreciate that this can be quite a challenge when your life has just been turned upside down by a new puppy and you may be missing out on your sleep. But I do want to stress how important it is.

That window for socialization is the time in the life of every puppy when they are most 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.

We have to find a balance between preventing infection, and preventing aggression.

When Can Puppies Go Outside: Is It Safe To Take Your Puppy Out Yet?

Can I Socialize My Puppy At Home?

Much of temperament is innate. Not all dogs that are kept at home for the first 16 weeks are aggressive, or unfriendly. And I understand that you may be under pressure to keep your puppy indoors. But the concensus of opinion now, it that there is a risk.

You can mitigate that risk by exposing the puppy to as many people and experiences as possible at home. Book in plenty of playdates. Arrange for dozens of different people to visit your home each week. And expose your puppy to sights, sounds, and textures.

This helps, but in my view this isn’t 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.

For those reasons, you shouldn’t keep your puppy shut away from the world for those first sixteen weeks of their lives. And my recommendation is that you take your puppy outside from the start. But with some important precautions.

How Do Puppies Catch Diseases?

Puppies don’t generally catch diseases from humans. Most germs that can infect a dog can’t infect people. 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 my 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.
  • DON’T allow your puppy to play with your friend’s unvaccinated dogs.

Keep your puppy safe in your arms outdoors. As your puppy grows, this can be a strain, but there are some tools to help you.

Can Puppies Go Outside If They Are Carried?

Puppies get heavy quickly. Especially Labrador puppies. For outings where you cannot put the puppy down, a lot of people use a shoulder bag to carry the puppy. I find this takes the strain off my back and leaves my hands free.

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 information supports the view that socialization does not increase the risk of catching this disease.

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.

Keeping Perspective

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 are low and have to be balanced against the issues with 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*(paid link) then repeat the process 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.

Recall Training

Early recall training is important. I like to get my puppies to follow me around in different outdoor locations while they are still small. Doing this will stand you in good stead later when your puppy 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.

When Can I Take My Puppy for a Walk?

You can walk your puppy in public one week after their final shots, unless your veterinarian says otherwise. Make sure your puppy wears a well-fitting harness*(paid link) for early outings.

Just remember, excessive exercise is harmful to small puppies.

Socialization: The Last Word

Nature designed puppies to become fearful of strange experiences 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.

Some dogs need more socializing than others. Temperaments vary, and it is not possible to be sure what temperament your dog has inherited until the window of socialization is closed.

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


  1. I would like to receive your free puppy training. I have a 14 week old labradoodle. She has more lab than poodle

  2. so If I am taking my puppy out and its not fully vaccinated yet, how do I allow the dog to relieve itself while out and about?
    I am planning a long drive but will need to make stops for the pup to relive itself…but it won’t be fully vaxed yet. how does that work?

  3. Just came home tonight with two 4 week old brother Labrador/Rottweiler mix. I’m so nervous over these guys I can’t sleep. I bought a puppy (or small dog) stroller. I’m hoping I can just take them out everywhere in the stroller to help with the socialization thing. Vet appt is in the afternoon. I’m tempted to stay awake until then lol. They seem to be doing well and sleeping soundly in this crate by my bed. I hate the way one hangs off the small dog bed I put in the crate when he’s sleeping.

  4. I will make sure that my pet is fully vaccinated when going out in public areas as you mentioned here. For a long while now, I’ve been wanting to have my own dog so that I have a jogging partner during the mornings. I hope that there is a nearby vet near where I live so that I can easily get the vaccinations needed for it once I adopt one.

  5. I have a litter of Rottweilers (8)that turned 4 weeks old Wednesday. They’re too young yet for their first shots but my question is…can I put them outside to poop at this age? They’re pooping all over the house and I’m constantly cleaning poop. The Mom doesn’t clean after them anymore. We started them on Puppy food mixed with Milk Supplement so they’re pooping more and big piles. I have a blanket that I put them on which they pee and poop on but I have to steadily clean that plus the rug I have in their cage. So again my question is…can I take them out to poop after they eat at 4 weeks old?

    • Take precautions and definitely spray the ground where they will be. We use 1 cup bleach to 5 gal water and saturate area let it sit till dry. This killed all the sporous and bacteria on ground.

  6. Hello! Thank you for this wealth of info! I have an elderly dog who is 11 and he is not up to date on his shots. He would need rabies and the 5 in 1, and we are getting a new puppy sept 8. Will he be ok to meetthe new puppy if we get him his shots this week? Also curious, since dogs in suburban areas tend to do their business in dog parks and such, is it ok usually to put a puppy down to start exploring different areas on cement, sidewalks, grocery store front areas, places were other dog paws may have walked but it’s likely they didn’t poop or pee there. We are trying to figure out a neutral place to let the two dogs meet but can’t put the puppy down in the park! Unless of course we use the sidewalk in the park. Thank you!

  7. I’m getting a different breed of dog but was searching everywhere for what to do during those crucial puppy weeks – bring him outside or not? Best article I found on the topic with solid advice. THANK YOU!

  8. I just got two chocolate male labradoodles.
    where i work a hair salon my boss said i can bring them. they are 8 weeks old.. they stay in the office.
    you eased my mind about things. they are getting socialized. and their is a dog at work fully vaccinated.
    i was listening to too many people. i have only had them 4 days. Thank you for this article. look forward to your emails. proud parent . Joseph

  9. Hello, I like long walks, however I don’t know when my dog can handle it. So is there a rule…how long the walks can be for certain age? He is three months old now

  10. Hi Pippa thanks for posting such a helpful article, I have just begun pre vaccination walks with my pup in my arms after reading this.I do have one question -would you encourage me allow other dog walkers and people in general to pet him while in my arms or not? I have a daschund chihuhua cross