There are two schools of thought on when it’s safe for your puppy to go outside:
- After the first round of shots: This typically happens when your puppy is somewhere between 6 to 8 weeks old and may still be with their breeder or mother.
- After the final round of vaccines: The final round is given when your puppy is about 16 weeks old.
Local recommendations can vary based on your area’s risk of parvovirus, a highly contagious deadly disease, and giardia, a bacterial infection that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Both are spread through contact with feces. Your puppy gets their first parvo shot in the first round of shots, but isn’t considered fully protected until the final round. Consult your vet to find out if there have been any outbreaks in your neighborhood.
In the past, the conventional wisdom erred on the side of caution and recommended that new dog owners wait until their dogs were fully vaccinated before going out. However, greater understanding of canine development and the impact of early socialization on behavioral problems has resulted in the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) changing their stance and recommending that puppies start the socialization process as early as 7 or 8 weeks.
“Socialization” is somewhat misunderstood as a term–humans tend to confuse it with “socializing,” aka enjoying social events. However, in dog training, “socialization” refers to exposure of your puppy to different sights, sounds, and experiences, paired with rewards for calmness and neutrality.
Lack of proper socialization has been linked to behavioral problems like fear, avoidance, and aggression, to such an extent that the AVSAB states it outweighs the risks caused by infectious disease. If you want to keep your puppy indoors until they’re fully vaccinated, use what’s around you. Easy options include:
- Open windows. Especially useful if you live in a high traffic area! Early exposure to car and truck noises go a long way.
- Audio recordings. You can play movies, YouTube videos, or other audio tracks to introduce your puppy to different sounds, including unfamiliar voices.
- Human playdates. Have friends come over, or take your puppy into their homes. Your puppy should be comfortable with strangers. If you’re going to introduce your puppy to children, make sure the children are old enough to follow instructions and understand that your puppy is still working on controlling their teeth.
- Puppy playdates. Other puppies their own age are best, but fully-vaccinated adult dogs are totally safe for your puppy to meet in clean environments.
- Car rides. Short car rides to fun places can go a long way during this stage. Make sure your puppy gets treats. If your puppy gets motion sick, it’s better to learn that early on and start finding ways to make car trips easier.
- Vet clinics and grooming salons. Places like these are extremely clean and an excellent way to introduce your puppy to being handled by strangers. If your puppy’s only experience with the vet is for shots and other necessary medical care, there’s a higher risk of them becoming anxious around the vet. The same goes for grooming visits–for their first trip, they can just hang out on the table, get used to being touched and bathed, and be exposed to the dryer.
During the first three months of your puppy’s life, make socialization your primary focus. A comprehensive puppy socialization checklist can help keep you on track during this process. Introduce your puppy to as many things as you can think of–men with hats and beards, audio recordings of fireworks, wet ground after it rains, metal grates and manhole covers, etc. This is especially important if you plan to raise your puppy in an urban environment where they’ll be bombarded by stimuli as soon as they step outside.
If you’re fostering a puppy, try to introduce them to other animals and children. A dog that’s safe around kids and cats has a much wider variety of homes available to them in the future!
Puppy Vaccine Schedule
Initially, your puppy benefits from maternally derived antibodies (MDA). Like the name implies, these antibodies are delivered via their mother’s milk. The protection fades somewhere between 8 to 12 weeks. As such, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) recommends that your puppy receive their first vaccine shot somewhere between 6 to 8 weeks, then every 2 to 4 weeks until they reach 16 weeks of age. At around 12 months, your puppy gets a booster shot.
If you adopt your puppy through a shelter, they may be on a slightly different schedule. Because shelters house a high volume of animals with unknown vaccination histories and disease profiles, WSAVA recommends a different vaccine schedule, starting as soon as they arrive. The shelter should provide you with your new puppy’s paperwork and vet information so that you can take over the process after adoption.
Ways to keep your puppy safe outside
Keep your puppy clean. Wipe them down when they come back inside, especially if you’re starting house training immediately.
Avoid touching the ground. Carry your puppy in a sling or stroller and go for short walks in the neighborhood. Parvo and giardia live on the ground, so avoiding ground contact entirely can make these outdoor excursions dramatically safer. If you’re comfortable, take your puppy to the park and set up a playpen or towel that they can hang out on while observing the world.
No eating off the ground. In addition to being unsafe before your puppy is fully vaccinated, it’s a bad habit in general.
Sign up for puppy socialization classes. Group puppy classes are often restricted by age and vaccination status, making them an extremely safe option for a young puppy to meet and interact with other dogs their own age. Led by a trainer, puppy socialization classes are also an excellent introduction to the basics of dog training and give you an opportunity to meet other dog owners for future puppy playdates.