Updated - May 26th, 2022
You can’t wait to show your new puppy off to the world, but is it a good idea to take your new bundle of joy out on the town right away?
The short answer is – probably not.
Your puppy needs to remain safe from dangerous diseases until their vaccinations are complete, but these little ones need socialization as well. So, how can you do both?
We have the answers for you!
The immune system of a puppy
While puppies are on their mother’s milk, they get antibodies that keep them safe from illness. But once weaned, that protection ends, and their immune system is still developing. That’s why puppies need vaccinations.
Vaccinations start around 8 weeks of age and the full series is complete around 16 weeks of age. These vaccinations build up their immune systems to protect them against common puppy illnesses like Parvovirus, Distemper, Leptospirosis, and parasites.
When puppies go outside and come in contact with an infected dog, or sniff or lick any feces or urine on the ground, they can pick up the disease. Not all dogs are symptomatic either. Some can be carriers, meaning they can carry the disease while showing no signs of illness.
Parvo is especially notorious for latching onto objects and can remain active for up to one year. One sniff from your puppy can be enough for the canine parvovirus to enter their system and wreak havoc.
All of this to say, sticking to your puppy’s vaccination schedule is crucial for keeping your puppy safe from these awful diseases. Veterinarians suggest you avoid contact with all unknown or unvaccinated dogs until their vaccination series are complete. But what about socializing them? Do you need to keep your dog isolated until they’ve had all their vaccines?
The importance of puppy socialization
The American Veterinarian Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) states in their position statement that behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the leading cause of death for dogs under the age of three.
Science has proven that the socialization of young puppies is at its most critical between 6 and 16 weeks of age.
Allowing them the freedom to experience positive interactions with other dogs, meet new people, and experience new sights, sounds, and smells, helps them gain the confidence and social skills they need to become the confident adult dog you know they can be.
This does leave you in a bit of a pickle, though – If your puppy’s health is at risk until they’ve completed their vaccinations, how can you properly socialize them?
We’re here to assure you it’s possible! Let’s dive into some ways you can socialize your puppy while keeping them out of harm’s way.
Keeping your puppy safe during socialization
When your puppy first comes home, socialization can begin immediately as you introduce to your new pup to your other dog(s) and other family members. All pets in the house should be current on vaccinations and parasite control measures.
Pet Pro Tip: New kitten owners often underestimate the long-term costs of veterinary care for a pet’s unexpected accidents & illnesses. Make sure you get your kitten insured as soon as possible!
Is your yard safe for your puppy?
Most yards are a low-risk area for young unvaccinated puppies unless you have lots of wildlife in your area. If you aren’t sure, ask your veterinarian if there are any disease outbreaks or other areas of concern specific to your area.
What about the friendly dog next door?
It’s okay for you to let your puppy meet any fully vaccinated dog that you a) know well and b) doesn’t frequent dog parks or take part in off-leash activities. This is likely a low-risk play partner. Keep the playdate in your yard, or theirs, but not in public places that risk contamination from unknown dogs or animals that may be carriers of disease.
Choose a sunny play spot in the yard and keep your puppy in that area during play or bathroom visits.
Puppies that are all around the same age, and have received at least one of their puppy shots, is also okay, as long as you allow them to play in your own yard, or theirs.
The ground is lava for unvaccinated puppies
Many pet parents want their puppies to go outside for walks around the neighborhood, but until your puppy has completed their vaccination series, avoid it. Puppies don’t need as much exercise as adult dogs, (be prepared for your puppy to sleep a lot!) so there’s no actual need for long walks.
If you want to take your puppy into the community with you, puppy backpacks, strollers, or carriers are a good add-on to your new puppy shopping list, as they make for easy travel while protecting them from contagions. If those aren’t available, carrying your puppy in your arms works, too. Remember that bacteria, pests, and disease can lurk on the surface of parking lots, grass, dirt, and leaves.
Can your puppy go to dog parks and off-leash areas?
Dog parks are notorious for parasites, diseases carried by unvaccinated dogs, carriers (animals who carry the disease without symptoms), and dogs incubating diseases or illnesses prior to their symptoms.
Avoid these areas until your puppy has received the full series of vaccinations.
Are puppy classes okay?
Most reputable puppy obedience classes require immunization records and sterilize the dog areas between classes. Most dog behaviorists and veterinarians support attending puppy classes one week after their first vaccinations, but you should always check with your veterinarian to be certain.
Try to take part in classes geared toward your puppy’s age, where all the participants are at the same vaccination levels. Keep the puppy on a leash and watch your pup’s body language and be ready to separate them if they’re showing signs of fear, apprehension, or aggressiveness.
The early months and years of your curious puppy’s life have the potential for plenty of misadventures. Enrolling your puppy in a puppy insurance plan gives you peace of mind that your puppy is protected should future eligible accidents or illnesses arise.
When can I take my puppy around other dogs?
Vaccinations and puppy socialization are two critical components of keeping your puppy safe and out of harm’s way. And you can do both by following a few simple guidelines while the vaccination series is underway.
- Avoid any dogs you don’t know or know to be unvaccinated. This includes dog parks, off-leash areas like hiking trails, or fields where wildlife roams.
- Carry your puppy over the ground where unknown dogs may have peed or pooped. Dog slings and backpacks are great for this if you have a large puppy and can’t carry them.
- Playdates are wonderful ways to socialize your puppy with other dogs, as long as they’re vaccinated and you know where the dog has been. Plan the playdate to be on your turf or theirs and safe from wildlife or unknown animals.
- Consider puppy training classes after the first set of puppy shots in facilities that screen for vaccinations and sterilize dog areas between classes.
- Talk to your vet about wildlife areas to avoid and any potential disease outbreaks in your location.
- You can take your dog for walks one week after they completed the last series of puppy shots.
In those first important months of your puppy’s life, they need puppy vaccinations and lots of proper socialization through positive experiences. Keep them safe by avoiding strange dogs and risky places until vaccinations are complete.