You can start walking your puppy anywhere you want, one week after their third and final puppy vaccination. This is usually between 14-17 weeks old depending on your vet’s vaccination schedule.
BUT, as we know, it is critically important to still be socialising puppies before this point, so they get exposed to lots of new and exciting things and learn that the big wide world is something exciting and not scary.
Before their second vaccine appointment:
At this stage, your puppy might not have developed any immunity to parvovirus, distemper or hepatitis, so be very cautious about where you let puppy sniff, lick and walk for these first couple of weeks.
You can take puppy anywhere with you where they don’t get access to the ground outside:
-> Car trips
-> Being carried to meet people, see shops, new environments etc.
-> Being pushed around in a shopping trolley in a large pet shop or Bunnings
-> Carried to the park/sports matches/the beach (but NOT on the ground yet)
You can have visitors over to your place! Your own house and back garden are the perfect safe space! Have human and animal friends over to visit and meet puppy as often as possible in these couple of weeks, so your new pup meets a variety of different people. If you have family or friends with dogs who are healthy and vaccinated, of any age, invite them over for a meet and greet!
You can take puppy to indoor venues where there are no unknown dogs:
-> A friend’s house (with no dogs or with healthy dogs)
-> Dog friendly office (if there haven’t been lots of unknown dogs in the past)
-> Dog friendly hairdressers (if you’re lucky enough to have one)
Before their third vaccine appointment:
One week after their second vaccination, your puppy should have developed good immunity to the major dangerous diseases. A small proportion of puppies won’t be covered by the second vaccine, which is why your vet will give a third one in four weeks’ time. Because you won’t know if your puppy is one of the majority who are covered, or is an unlucky one who’s not covered, you should still be sensible and avoid high-risk locations until after the final vaccination.
Discuss the relative risk of Parvovirus in your area, with your vet.
-> If you are in a low-risk area, yay! You can start to walk your puppy on the ground outside, but stick to the pavement and car parks to minimise the risk of puppy licking or stepping in other people’s dog poo. You can start training how to walk nicely on a lead and explore your local streets.
-> If you are in a high-risk area, your vet will advise you not to take this risk and still continue socialising without touching the ground in public.
You can start to allow puppy on the floor at dog friendly cafes, pubs or other outdoor venues that allow dogs, as long as you mostly keep away from any public grassy areas where lots of other dogs have been.
Puppy School is a perfect place to meet other local puppies of the same age and have an interesting new experience. If you meet like-minded dog owners at these sessions, organise a play-date at each other’s houses.
One week after the third vaccination:
You are covered! Get on out there and explore! Grass is now a safe zone no matter who has been there before you, so hit the park, the beach, the bush – anywhere and everywhere.
Whilst this is a very exciting milestone and it’s tempting to go for huge adventures, remember your puppy is still a baby and they won’t be up for long runs or hikes just yet – this might be a bit too much for their little legs! Take your time getting them used to their harness and lead, be prepared to cut things short or carry them home if they get tired and remember to take plenty of poo bags!
A Note About Off-Leash Dog Parks
It is worth noting that off-leash dog parks, even if the space is fully fenced, are NOT a safe place for a young puppy. It is best to avoid these for a few weeks or even months and make sure you and puppy both feel comfortable with walks and meeting new dogs before attempting to introduce the off-leash location.
Many dog owners have not made as much effort to educate themselves about dog behaviour as you have and do not take enough responsibility for their adult dogs in public. If you have a small breed then your little fluff-ball is vulnerable to being bowled over, chased or nipped by over-excited or reactive older dogs. If your puppy is bigger and more robust then they might be keen to play, but they are still learning doggie manners and might behave in an overwhelming way to an older dog with not much patience. You don’t want your puppy to have a bad experience early on as this can create phobias that can last for life.
Off-leash dog parks are never a safe location for any dog until they have a rock-solid recall and will come when called. If your pup gets into trouble off-leash and you need to call them back, you must know that they will do so even in the presence of huge distraction. Before making the leap to an off-leash park, spend lots of time honing your pup’s recall skills. You should train this at home to start with, then when this is fairly fool-proof you can move outside, on-lead at first, then eventually try off-lead in a very controlled manner. Most puppies will take many weeks to get to this stage, so in the meantime focus on visiting plenty of on-lead parks and meeting lots of other dogs on leads.
Check out your local off-leash venue a few times before actually going in. Take a look at the locals and whether they seem friendly and an appropriate size match for your puppy to play with. Work out when the quietest time of day is so you can try some recall training without many other dogs around for distraction. If there are other dogs there, chat to the owners about this being your puppy’s first time so they can help encourage their dogs to be polite and gentle.