If you’re a new puppy owner, then you know that a lot of work goes into keeping your newest family member safe. Just look at the process of puppy-proofing your home. There are electrical cords, household cleaners, toxic houseplants, and more. Much like caring for a toddler, if they CAN get into something that they shouldn’t, they likely will. There is, however, one question that I am often asked here on Shed Happens and that is: When can my puppy go outside?
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If this is the first time that you’ve adopted a dog, or the first time starting from the puppy stage, you may be surprised to learn that there are risks to bringing your dog outdoors in the beginning.
I’m talking about more than just the risk of encountering wildlife or escaping from the yard.
At this stage in a puppy’s life, they are still highly vulnerable and there are steps that we need to take when it comes to exploring the outdoors to keep them safe.
There are three major risks that should factor into whether you feel safe bringing your dog outdoors:
- Exposure to illness before fully vaccinated
- Potential growth plate injuries
- Extreme temperatures.
Today, we’re going to look at each of these concerns, the potential risks associated with them and how to keep your puppy safe.
Related: ‘15 Tips for Successful Dog Socialization‘
Bringing a new puppy into your family is an exciting time and you may be tempted to whisk your new family member off to meet all your fellow dog lovers and their companions.
Unfortunately, you may need to hold off depending on your puppy’s age and whether they have received all their necessary vaccinations.
Before vaccination, your puppy is highly at risk for some very serious and even life-threatening diseases including canine parvovirus, distemper, rabies, kennel cough and adenovirus.
Many of these illnesses are spread by secondary contact, such as through the feces of infected animals.
Therefore, even bringing your dog to an empty dog park before their vaccinations have been completed can be incredibly risky.
The answer as to when your puppy can safely go outdoors isn’t black and white.
However, a general rule of thumb is that your dog should not have ‘paws on the ground’ anywhere where they could encounter these viruses until 1 week following their last round of puppy vaccinations.
This means that you could carry your puppy for a walk around the block to get him/her used to the sounds and smells before this point, but your puppy should not be placed on the ground, even on a designated sidewalk, before their immune system is prepared to handle it.
Public vs Private Spaces
If you have a private yard or garden (preferably fenced), you can start spending some time outdoors with your puppy earlier.
This will give you the opportunity to start training your dog to go to the bathroom outside.
For multi-dog households, make sure that ALL dogs in the house are fully vaccinated for this to be considered a safe option.
Don’t forget to puppy-proof your yard by eliminating risks such as toxic garden plants or areas where your fence may be compromised, allowing your dog to escape.
There are going to be times that you do have to enter a public space with your puppy. If nothing else, there is the trip to the vet for vaccinations.
In these situations, pick up and carry your puppy to avoid any exposure.
Introducing your dog to new smells, sounds and experiences is an important step in raising a well-adjusted dog.
Be mindful of your puppy’s comfort level and cut your adventures short if you notice that they are getting overwhelmed or stressed out.
Early Development and Growth Plates
Another important consideration when caring for a young puppy is the fact that they are still growing and developing.
When you puppy is still young, they have areas at the end of longer bones in their body called growth plates.
These are soft and more vulnerable areas where the puppy is still growing, allowing their bones to grow longer and denser as their size increases.
While we often look at bones as a strong and supportive part of the body, they are far more vulnerable during these earlier growth stages and are at a higher risk of injury.
The most common cause of injury at this stage of their development is too allowing your puppy to overdo it in terms of exercise and activity.
Exercise is an important part of your puppy’s health and well-being, but the key is moderation.
This means limiting both the length of time that your puppy is overly active as well as the intensity of your puppy’s exercise based on their age, giving them time to fully develop safely.
Ignoring this could lead to a growth plate injury that will continue to cause problems for your dog throughout their adult life.
The timeline for the growth plates to close will depend on the breed of your dog. The larger the dog, the longer the growth plates will remain open.
So, how much exercise can your new puppy enjoy safely? Luckily for us, most professionals follow the same five-minute rule.
For each month of your dog’s age, they can exercise for five minutes. This should also be divided into more than one play session throughout the day.
This continues until the puppy is a fully grown dog, at which point they can exercise for longer periods without risk of injury.
Following this rule, for example, a 4-month-old puppy can safely exercise for 40 minutes each day or two 20-minute sessions.
These sessions should involve controlled play and mild to moderate exertion to lower the risk of injury.
Can I Go Hiking with A Puppy?
There are options to hike with your puppy safely, but there are a few important safety measures to consider during your planning.
First, hold off until your puppy is vaccinated and can safely spend time in public spaces.
While hiking is an activity enjoyed outdoors and often without much contact with other people and dogs, there are still risks associated with the use of the trails by others as well as the wildlife in the area.
If it’s too soon to let your puppy play at the local park, it’s also too soon to explore the trails.
Second, don’t forget that five-minute rule!
You don’t have to let your puppy’s exercise limits dictate the length of trail that you choose to hike, you just have to be prepared.
If you are looking for a longer or more intense hike, you can accommodate a younger puppy by purchasing a hiking pack to carry them safely.
Allow your puppy to hike an easier stretch of the trail, limiting the time that they are exercising based on their age.
When the time comes that they need to rest again, simply place the dog in the pack on your back.
As your puppy grows, however, don’t forget to also factor your own well-being into the mix by choosing a pack that allows you to carry the weight without risk of injury!
Cold and Heat-Related Illnesses
I can’t talk about outdoor safety without taking a moment to touch on the risks associated with extreme weather.
During the coldest days of winter and the hottest days of summer, time spent outdoors should be extremely limited for your puppy.
If you are at all in doubt, err on the side of caution and remain indoors.
Conclusion: When Can My Puppy Go Outside?
After discussing all those different factors, we return to the original question. When can my puppy go outside?
There is no one all-encompassing answer. Instead, it’s a series of stages.
Here is a summary of the recommendations from the veterinary professionals that I spoke with before writing this post.
Keep in mind that it does take a few days for these vaccinations to fully take effect!
After First Round of Puppy Vaccinations: Private yards and spaces, being carried outdoors when visiting any public spaces.
After Second Round of Puppy Vaccinations: Your puppy can now walk on safer surfaces such as pavement or asphalt but should still avoid grassy areas and dirt.
After Third Round of Puppy Vaccinations: It is now safe for your puppy to explore public spaces.
Make sure to plan ahead, bring plenty of water and limit your puppy’s activity based on their age.
Most importantly, enjoy this experience with your puppy.
They grow up FAR too quickly. There will come a time when you look back at these memories fondly.
In what ways did you give your puppy access to the outdoors and fresh air early in their development? I invite you to share your tips with the community using the comment section!