Puppies need to go outside to pee, poop, meet people and other animals, and explore the world. But for the first few weeks of their lives they are also at risk from infections and diseases. Most experts agree that your puppy can go outside in your back yard from eight weeks old, but should wait to go on the ground outdoors in public until they are 16 weeks old. Today we’ll answer the important question of when puppies can go outside, and show you how to take your puppy out safely before 16 weeks old for socialization.
- When can puppies go outside and not risk infection?
- Vaccinations and diseases
- Can 8 week old puppies go outside in the back yard?
- When can puppies go outside for socialization?
- Can I put my new puppy on the ground in public?
- When can puppies go outside to play with other dogs?
The question of when can puppies go outside matters a lot to new owners. When will your dog be ready for the back yard or dog park? If you’ve just brought home a new puppy, these questions are important ones! Experts in different fields of animal care seem to have different answers to this question. In this article, we’ll explore this important topic in more detail.
When Can Puppies Go Outside?
Although it’s fine for them to go on your private back yard from 8 weeks old, public outings aren’t recommend by everyone at this point. Some veterinarians caution that it isn’t safe for puppies to come into contact with potential biohazards until 16 weeks of age. Other behaviorists advocate for the importance of early socialization. Dr. Meghan Herron, a veterinary and animal behavior specialist, states that the critical period for socializing your puppy is between 3 to 16 weeks. But waiting to socialize your puppy until their vaccines take full effect may mean missing out on this important window.
Early Socialization is Imperative For a Well-Adjusted Dog.
Ensuring your young puppy has as many positive interactions with new people, places, and things as possible will make for a confident and friendly adult dog. According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar, your puppy should meet and have positive experiences with one hundred or more people by the time they are 16 weeks old.
That’s a lot of people! If you bring your puppy home at 8 weeks, that’s about 12 new people a week. So when can puppies go outside and begin meeting all these new people?
Taking the right precautions, you can ensure your puppy’s safety and health are not jeopardized while still satisfying their socialization needs. Ensuring your puppy avoids contact with diseases until they are fully vaccinated is the first priority. But this doesn’t mean your puppy can’t have new experiences, though!
When Can Puppies Go Outside – The Medical Point of View
Puppies are typically ready to go to their new home at 8 weeks of age. However, just because they’re ready for a new home, doesn’t mean they’re ready for everything else. Just like human babies, young puppies need a lot of sleep.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, puppies under three months old can sleep up to 20 hours a day—which doesn’t leave much time for other activities. As important as socialization is, ensuring your puppy sleeps enough is necessary to ensure proper growth and brain development and will also make sure your puppy is in a good mood.
On top of this, young puppies don’t need as much exercise as older puppies or adult dogs. A common rule of thumb is five minutes of exercise per month of age. At two months old, this means only ten minutes.
When Can Puppies Go Outside For Walks?
Walking a puppy longer than what they’re ready for can quickly turn into a negative experience—and may even be physically harmful to your puppy.
The growth plates in the long bones of a maturing puppy don’t fully close until a dog is about one year old. So over-exercising your puppy can be harmful to the development of their skeletal structure.
However, the main reason to be cautious when taking a young puppy outside is exposure to diseases your pup may not be vaccinated against yet.
Risking exposure to diseases your dog is not protected against is dangerous. Many diseases, such as the parvovirus, can be spread just through contact with inanimate objects.
This means that even sniffing something an infected dog had been in contact with hours previous can potentially infect an unvaccinated puppy.
Vaccinations and Diseases
It’s impossible to know if every dog is up to date on their vaccinations when visiting a park or pet store, so prohibiting contact with strange dogs is extremely important for young puppies.
Even seemingly healthy dogs may carry viruses. This means they may look and act healthy but still have the disease and can spread it to other dogs.
Young puppies don’t have fully developed immune systems, and thus are especially susceptible to illnesses. That’s why it’s important to never put your puppy on the ground in an unknown environment unless they’ve had all their vaccinations.
When Can Puppies Go Outside in the Yard?
Does waiting to go to the park mean that puppies can’t go outside at all until they’re fully vaccinated? Thankfully, no! Places such as private gardens and yards offer safe places for young puppies to explore on their own without running the risk of exposure to dangerous viruses.
A puppy can begin exploring your yard the day you bring them home. Becoming familiar with your yard or garden will be a necessary part of potty training. Here, a young puppy doesn’t run the risk of contracting an illness spread by an unvaccinated dog.
Taking your puppy out for a walk should be delayed until they are fully covered by all their vaccines. There’s always the chance that an unvaccinated dog sniffed the same section of grass your puppy will want to roll in.
This seemingly small action can result in your puppy coming into contact with a dangerous virus.
As mentioned previously though, your young puppy doesn’t need much exercise. Most veterinarians agree, puppies are fully vaccinated by 16 weeks of age, which is when they can exercise for about 20 minutes at a time. Up to this point, the exercise needs of your puppy can be met with within the safety of your home or yard.
When Can My Puppy Go Outside – The Social Point of View
Keeping your puppy safe doesn’t mean he or she can’t start socializing right away. If you’re going to meet Dr. Ian Dunbar’s suggestion of one hundred people by the time your puppy is 16 weeks old, your puppy will need to be meeting twelve people a week.
Unless you’re throwing parties every week, it will be hard to meet this goal without your puppy leaving the house.
Pet-friendly stores offer excellent opportunities for your puppy to meet more people. And it’s less likely your puppy will come into direct contact with another dog at these locations. But it still isn’t safe to put your puppy on the ground if there is any chance of coming into contact with another dog.
Parvovirus can remain alive for up to one year in a non-living environment, so even if you don’t see another dog, it’s still safer to carry your puppy. As your puppy builds up immunity through vaccines and natural exposure, talk to your vet about safe places you can start letting your puppy explore as they age.
When Can Puppies Go Outside On The Ground?
I’ve heard many vets suggest the chances of contracting illnesses on the floor at a veterinary office are slim. That’s because it is highly unlikely an unvaccinated dog has been there recently. So this can be a great place to sniff around and meet people who love dogs!
Always double check with your vet, though. The chance of contracting a virus preventable by a vaccine is low at a veterinary clinic, but your veterinarian will be able to tell you for sure if the area is safe or not.
Even if your veterinarian suggests you hold your puppy rather than put him or her on the ground, it’s still a great place to meet new humans.
When I worked at a veterinary clinic, the best part of my day was always meeting a new puppy. I’m sure the receptionists, vet techs, and anyone else working at the clinic will be ecstatic about cuddling your young puppy while you fill out paperwork!
Vaccination schedules can take up to four visits for a young puppy making your veterinarian’s office a staple in your puppy’s social life.
When Can My Puppy Meet New People?
It’s important to ensure your puppy experiences different types of people. Children of all ages, tall people, people with hats and sunglasses, people in uniforms, and people with disabilities should all be your puppy’s list of people to meet during socialization.
We’ve all heard stories of dogs who just don’t like men, or people with short hair, or dogs who are afraid of wheelchairs.
Early socialization is the best chance of making sure your puppy doesn’t develop these fears. Dog-friendly hardware stores make an excellent destination for a young puppy.
Though your puppy shouldn’t explore the floor here, many stores are okay with a puppy being pushed around in the cart as you walk through the isles.
This saves you from carrying a growing puppy the whole trip and means they get used to the motion of the cart. Just remember to sanitize the cart before and after use!
Where Can My Puppy Meet Other Dogs?
Places a young puppy can safely explore on the ground are fairly limited for the first 16 weeks. One option is to arrange puppy play dates with dogs you may know. It’s important to know not only the vaccination status of a potential playmate but also the temperament of the dog.
Some older dogs aren’t as patient with puppies, which can be dangerous. If possible, it’s a good idea for your young puppy to meet puppies of a similar age who will be just as excited to play as they are.
This will help teach behavioral cues for future experiences with other dogs and also helps burn some of that puppy energy.
Socializing puppies with humans and other dogs is imperative for every dog, but especially breeds that are prone to aggression. Dogs bred to have to guard behaviors can become aggressive if they aren’t properly socialized at a young age.
Making sure your puppy not only has a lot of new experiences but positive experiences are ultra important.
Bringing treats along can help to get a distracted puppy’s attention and also boost confidence.
Until your puppy is covered by all vaccines, playgroups should meet in backyards or homes that haven’t come into contact with any unvaccinated dogs.
When Can Puppies Go Outside To Play With Other Dogs?
Finding safe playgroups with other vaccinated dogs is a great way for your puppy to learn how to play. These playgroups can take place in the safety of a yard or garden where all the dogs are kept safe from potential environmental exposures and can be monitored closely.
Playgroups are safer than meeting other dogs on walks for another reason. Leashed dogs are more likely to exhibit fear or anxiety-based aggression, so skipping the park and opting for backyard fun keeps all parties safer.
This means your puppy is set up for success since the experience is more likely to be a positive one. Balancing the physical health of your puppy along with their behavioral needs doesn’t have to be confusing or complex.
Remembering to take new experiences slow with a new puppy can ensure new experiences are positive. This means avoiding medical dangers such as exposure to viruses and won’t overwhelm your puppy.
When Can My Puppy Go For a Walk?
It’s tempting to take a new puppy everywhere you can when they first come home. But ensuring early experiences are positive and safe is the most important part of socialization.
For several weeks, this may mean limiting their exposure to other dogs. Provided the experiences your puppy does have with other dogs are all primarily positive, though, they should begin to develop social skills at a young age.
Though the critical period for socialization is often quoted as being the first four months, this is simply a foundation. Continuing to build on these experiences will make for a happy, well-adjusted adult dog.
So When Can My Puppy Go Outside?
The answer isn’t necessarily black and white. When can puppies go out in a yard? Right away, provided no unvaccinated dogs have come in contact with the environment beforehand. However, puppies should wait to explore environments outside the home where other dogs frequent.
Unless you know the vaccine status of every dog that has been in a certain location before you and your puppy, it’s important to not put your puppy on the ground until all vaccines take full effect.
For most puppies, this will be around 16 weeks.
This doesn’t mean that socialization has to be put on hold.
Carrying your puppy or placing them in a sanitized shopping cart are two great ways of keeping your puppy safe while outside.
From the safety of your arms or another elevated environment, a puppy can still meet a number of new people and experience the world outside your home.
All without running the risk of coming into contact with diseases they aren’t immune against yet.
Do you have a new puppy? Or maybe you have previous experience or opinions about socializing your puppy and when to take them outside? Let us know in the comments.
References and Further Reading
Dunbar I. 1996. Dog Behavior: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet. Howell Book House.