small dark grey puppy waring a green collar standing in the grass

When Can My Puppy Go Outside?

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?


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

Puppy Vaccinations

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.   

The fact that your dog’s feet shouldn’t touch the ground doesn’t mean that you can take short adventures to help with early socialization while using a reliable carrier or backpack.

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.  

Black lab standing outdoors on a stone surface wearing a black harness and red leash

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.

There are many different options available ranging in size and structure, from padded and structured packs for large dogs and longer distances to smaller packs for toy breeds or a casual walk.  

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!

Related: ‘How Early Should You Start Leash Training A Puppy?

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.

Young pups are highly vulnerable to weather-related illnesses and complications including potentially fatal conditions like heat stroke.

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.

Small dark grey puppy wearing a green collar standing in the grass. Text asks: When can my puppy go outside safely? Learn the risks.

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!

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  1. I had no idea you had to watch your bodies exercise levels due to issues it can cause there growth plates. I wonder how many people are actually aware of that?

    When I had a dog growing up, we didn’t let our dog outside until they were vaccinated. However, once our dog could go outside she was took scared to do so. I had to pick her up carry her around the street in my arms so she’d stop being scared

    1. There is a lot to consider at that age, isn’t there? I do believe that a lot of newer dog owners simply haven’t been informed when it comes to things like this.

  2. Such an interesting and informative post, Britt. We’ve never had dogs but I suspect a lot of what you’ve written here goes for cats and kittens too with regard to being vulnerable and post-vaccinations. I didn’t know about growth plates in dogs though – I wonder if that’s the same in cats, do you know? Fab tips, thank you for sharing this!

  3. This was so interesting, I’ve always kept my dogs in (other than our garden) until the recommended time after vaccines but I didn’t know about the growth plates factor too! Hugo had to get his vaccines a couple of weeks late because our vet thought he was too small and wanted him to grow a little before she’d do them. Because he was a little older and we didn’t want him to be scared of people/ traffic etc. I went on a few walks carrying him (he was only 900-1kg at the time) from about 9-12 weeks just so he could get used to outdoor noises before he was allowed out for proper walks. I think he enjoyed all the extra attention he was getting to be honest ?

    1. Taking your dog for a walk while carrying him is a great solution to introducing the different sites, sounds and smells of the outside world without risking exposure to something dangerous.

  4. My oldest ‘puppy’ is almost 6 now, so it’s been awhile since I’ve had to think about this type of stuff. I remember raising both my puppies in our city apartment – I had to be especially careful not to expose them to anything outside before they finished their puppy shots. It would be so different to raise a puppy now that we’re not in the city anymore and have a private yard.

    1. Yes, having a private yard is a big help as you have that space that you can control. We’re lucky to have that here, but I haven’t always had it so I do understand how frustrating it can be. That’s why so many apartment owners rely on pee pads early on in their puppy’s lives to avoid going outside if they don’t have a space nearby that they feel they can trust.

  5. This post was informative for me. I never owned a dog as I’m a cat person however didn’t realize introducing your puppy outside in public is best in stages. Who knew? Not me. Thanks for sharing this helpful post. And I couldn’t agree more. Now that we are heading into summer, being mindful of the extreme heat is so important in helping keep pets safe.

    1. It’s something that many first-time dog owners have never been told which is why I wanted to make sure to talk about it. Growth plate injuries can have a long-lasting impact on your dog’s quality of life and with illnesses like parvo being so serious, it’s important to take your time and work through those stages.

    2. Hi, first time reader here. Thanks so much for this post Britt. I so much love dogs. I am currently preparing myself to have a puppy (hoping to get me one very soon). Your blog is so rich with details which I believe will help me in taking care of my incoming pet and I can’t thank you enough for that.


  6. I’ve seen several growth plate injuries while working at zoos with animals that got scared by things like balloons and such and hurt themselves. Scary how much it can affect the rest of their life!

    1. It really is! One mistake at this young age could stay with them forever which is why it’s so important to talk about it and help to educate newer dog owners.

  7. A friend of mine just adopted the cutest German shepherd puppy and she was telling me about how she can’t take her in public yet. Your post helps me understand why they have to be so cautious. I didn’t know there were so many things to consider with a puppy. My friend lucky to have a large yard to take the puppy outside, which has helped, but now that we’re having a heatwave I’m sure things will be a bit more complicated. I was thinking one day I’d like to get a puppy myself so it’s good to know all of this in advance!

  8. Great post and reminders to all new pet parents. I have never had a puppy, only rescued older dogs but even there we need to take precautions till all is safe. A puppy is like a baby, and what parents do with a baby they should do with a puppy

  9. I had NO IDEA about most of this stuff for puppies. No wonder I stick to adopting more grown-up animals!! (Don’t I sound mean heh?) All of this needs to be remembered with your own puppy in mind. You don’t count the weeks and months, you count the behaviours (does that make sense?)

    We lost a dog to distemper when I was little. Mandy her name was, so I can relate to carrying a puppy to stop it getting infections (although NOT a bulldog puppy – have you ever tried to carry or lift one of those JEEEZ the weigh a ton!!).

    1. There is a lot to consider which can make it seem SO overwhelming for new pet owners! I know that I made some mistakes with my first puppy and I’m just lucky that it didn’t result in something tragic. That’s why I wanted to put this together – one easy place where someone follow a breakdown where it (hopefully) makes it seem much easier to stick to.

  10. Excellent post, thanks! It’s so critical to know that puppies are still vulnerable to outside germs & other nasties. When Icy was a puppy we didn’t bring her to public spaces until all her vaccinations were complete, then we began taking her to Starbucks patios and stores that allow pets. She didn’t go to a dog park until she was at least a year old – that is on place that’s totally taboo for puppies! We cringed when we saw a young couple bring their little puppy to the dog park – the pup couldn’t have been more than about 12 weeks. Ugh. Dog parks are full of germs from other dogs – it’s not like anyone shampoos the grass LOL! Not to mention, bigger older dogs can be so frightening for a puppy.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Dog parks make me nervous in general, honestly. My dogs don’t go simply because I feel like there are too many people that don’t have control over their dogs or aren’t caring to try and have control over their dogs. Too many factors that I can’t control… Although, we’re lucky enough to have a large yard where we can have our friends bring their pups to play safely!

  11. I remember when I first let my kittens outside I was so nervous they would run away or get lost! At least it’s easier to keep puppies on a leash, but there is clearly still a lot to think about before letting puppies out for the first time. x

    1. Our cats were indoor exclusively until they were old enough to be harness trained for exactly that reason. There are so many risks out there, aren’t there?

  12. I feel silly for not having a clue that puppies should limit their exercise or outdoor activity. This is a super informative post that I really enjoyed reading. You’ve taught me so much about dogs, puppies, and pets in general. I really was impressed with this information. I of course will be referencing it in the future if I get a puppy.

  13. It’s been a long time since we had a puppy; we adopted our last dog when she was a year and a half old. I forgot how many important considerations the simple decision of taking a puppy outside involves.

    1. That’s part of the reason why we adopted our last dog at 1 1/2 yrs old approximately. We knew, at the time, that we simply didn’t have the time, energy and resources to raise a puppy from those early years. While I definitely have more time now for that kind of commitment, it was definitely the right choice for us back then!

  14. I would have never guessed that that puppies would need to limit their exercise and being outside tbh, so much that I didn’t know. I would have guessed the opposite, but that makes sense especially in the way you explained it 🙂

    1. It’s something that we didn’t realize in the past, so many people aren’t aware of it. However, with a better understanding of the different diseases (like parvo) and medical limitations of a developing puppy, we are able to make better decisions.

    1. It’s crazy sometimes to step back and see what we have learned over the years, isn’t it? Even just the last 10 years, we have discovered new training methods, medical care and more.

  15. This is quite helpful for new puppy owners! Thanks for putting this together 🙂 I enjoyed reading it and will keep all of this in mind.

    1. Thank you! Caring for a new puppy can be so stressful. I just hope that breaking information like this down will help new dog owners and take away a little bit of that stress.

  16. You’ve taught me so much about dogs, puppies, and pets. I am so glad and thankful that you shared all this information. Thank you so much.
    Lots of Love!

  17. I love how much I learn every time I visit your blog! I think hot and cold related issues are the ones that are so ften ignored by pet owners. I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems like they are just too easy to overlook. Especially the cold weather related issues. We all know about heat, but the cold presents problems as well. I also didn’t know about the play time factoring in a puppies age. That’s a new one for me, and clearly very important!

    1. Yes, there is a lot of talk about the heat-related risks but we also need to acknowledge that extreme cold can be dangerous too!