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First walks with my puppy: How can I make them effective?

Poodle mix wearing collar and ID tags sitting in the garden.

An ID tag is a legal requirement when walking your puppy.

© Dieter Hawlan - Shutterstock

Lucky enough to have a new puppy in your life? You may be wondering when and how to start walks outdoors. Here we take a look at key steps for success.

By Greta Inglis

Published on the 29/05/2021, 18:00

For loving dog owners, the prospect of their puppy’s first walk may seem slightly daunting. This is your puppy’s first experience of the big outdoors, of new people and of other dogs. Getting it right is really important, as fun walks can positively shape future behaviour and learning.

With mixed guidance available out there, it can be difficult to know when the right time has come to start walking your puppy and how long the walks should last. We all know that walks are important for both physical and mental development, but the duration and the frequency of walks will depend on your dog’s age, medical history and breed type.

When can my puppy go for their first walk?

The answer to this question lies in your puppy’s vaccination history.  They will typically be ready to go for their first puppy walk once they have been vaccinated, which will be carried out in two phases. Serious diseases such as parvovirus and canine distemper can be dangerous for young dogs, and contagious infections such as kennel cough can also be passed on easily. Ensuring your puppy has been vaccinated will help keep them safe and is essential if they’re going to be brought outdoors to meet other dogs and new people.

Your puppy will receive their first vaccination at around 8 weeks of age, with the second following on shortly after, at 10-12 weeks. It can be tempting to take your puppy out walking whilst waiting for the second vaccination but do be aware your puppy is not fully protected at this age.

Can I take my 8-week-old puppy for a walk?

At 8 weeks of age your puppy will likely have received their first vaccination, but not yet their second, meaning the course is incomplete. At this stage, they are not fully vaccinated against disease, and so introducing them to bacteria and other dogs who may not be vaccinated could expose them to risk. Having said this, at 8 weeks of age, your puppy is in a critical phase of development and learning. Known as the socialisation period, this is a key window within which you can expose your dog to people, friendly dogs and new noises and environments. Building positive associations at this stage is key, in order to have a confident and friendly dog once fully grown.

Whilst puppy walks may not be an option, there are lots of steps you can take to promote learning and help your puppy experience positive interactions. Obedience training and games at home can be a great source of mental stimulation, building a bond between you and your dog.

Car rides are also great at this age, particularly when combined with high value treats your puppy loves and lots of praise. This will make car journeys fun from early on. Puppy parties through dog trainers can also be an invaluable source of interaction at this young age, with lots of vaccinated puppies of similar ages being introduced to each other for playtime. This is a gentle way of helping your puppy mix, without the health risks of premature walks to the park.

At what age can I bring my puppy to the park?

Your puppy will be able to visit the park once they have had both their vaccinations, which typically will have been carried out by 12 weeks of age. From this point on, they will be able to visit the park to explore and meet other dogs. At first, it’s important to keep walks short and interactions positive, so your puppy isn’t overwhelmed or over-tired by the experience.

How far can a 12-week-old puppy walk? The importance of getting walks right

Walks are really important for every dog. They provide the opportunity for mental stimulation, through sniffing and exploring, as well as the physical activity dogs need. It’s one of the greatest joys as dog owners (or at least until it pours with rain unexpectedly!) and regular walking with your dog can build a great bond through shared fun experiences.

As a rule of thumb, veterinarians usually recommend five minutes of exercise per month of age, meaning a 12-week-old puppy should be walked for around 15 minutes.

Depending on your dog’s breed and energy level, they may enjoy this twice a day, increasing the length of the walk as they grow. At this age, your puppy is still experiencing musculoskeletal development, and the growth plates in the long bones have not yet closed. Care should therefore be taken not to over-exercise your puppy, as this can cause joint pain and may even lead to mobility issues and arthritis long-term.

If you share your life with a giant breed, extra care should be taken. Giant breeds such as the Saint Bernard and Great Dane don’t physically mature until around 2 years of age. Over-exercising them as young puppies may cause orthopaedic disease in adult dogs.

Walking my puppy for the first time: How should I prepare?  

Advance preparation is key when getting ready for your first walk. You will need:

Your puppy’s ID tag: This is not only helpful if your puppy becomes lost, it is in fact a legal requirement. All dogs must wear an ID tags on walks, and with dog theft on the rise, this is more important than ever.

Fresh water: Your puppy may be overexcited during their first walks, and with spring and summer approaching, it’s important to keep them hydrated. A portable bottle of fresh water can come in handy on sunny days.

Check the pavement temperature: To keep your puppy healthy and happy, make sure the pavement isn’t too hot for their delicate paws. You can use the back of your hand to test it.

Poo bags and high value treats: Nobody likes doing it but picking it up is rule number one of responsible dog ownership. Be sure to bring some poop bags and high value treats. You can praise and reward any toileting outside, teaching your puppy this is the place to go!

How can I prepare my puppy for their very first walk?

Once your puppy is vaccinated and ready for the big wide world, you’ll need to spend some time helping them become comfortable with a collar or harness. You know your dog best, but harnesses are often advisable as they put less pressure on your dog’s neck. If you do choose a collar, one made of flat, soft material is recommended. Chain collars are too heavy for puppies and can cause discomfort, making walking an unpleasant experience for them.

When your puppy is wearing the collar, ensure it is loose enough for you to be able to easily create a gap, without being so loose it could come off on walks. Choosing the right lead is equally as important, as this will shape the training you’re able to carry out. A flat, lightweight lead is best suited for your puppy, as flexi-leads can cause injury and may even encourage pulling.

When it comes to lead training, we would recommend starting this at home. Place the lead, and collar or harness on the ground, and reward your puppy for approaching and interacting with it. Repeat this over many sessions, creating excitement for your puppy as they learn this equipment means good things. After repeated positive reinforcement, bring the collar or harness to touch your puppy and immediately praise and reward them. Build on this gradually, ensuring they are always comfortable and relaxed. When you reach the point of fastening it, spend a few sessions clipping and then removing the collar or harness, to be sure your puppy doesn’t become frightened or overwhelmed. You can then increase the duration they wear it for, in line with their comfort levels.

For lead training, attach the lightweight lead and then treat using high value rewards they love. Using an excited tone of voice, encourage your puppy to follow you, offering lots of praise for doing so. At first, the lead may simply trail along. Once they have discovered how fun the game is, you’re ready to teach your puppy to walk on a loose lead.

Training your puppy to walk on a loose lead from an early age will make dog walks enjoyable for years to come. Click here for more on how to stop your dog from pulling on the lead.

The five steps to successful puppy walking 

Your first puppy walks are an exciting time, as your furbaby gets to grips with the world around them. Everything is new and unknown and it’s up to us as owners to guide young dogs through these experiences, ensuring they are happy and well-balanced as they grow into adult dogs. Here we take a look at our five key steps to successful walking:

Step one: Put in the ground work

The socialisation period is possibly one of the most important phases of a dog’s life, as they learn to interact with (and not fear) the world around them. Even if your puppy is too young to walk on their own four paws, taking them out and about and gently exposing them to positive experiences will really help prepare them for walks when the time comes.

Building positive associations at home to the collar or harness can also help with handling as your dog becomes bigger and bouncier, so put the time in to showing them it means good things.

Step two: Begin lead training in quiet areas and build on this in time

You can set your puppy up for success by starting their lead training at home. The less stimulation and excitement around, the easier it is for them to focus on the task at hand. Practice in your garden, living room or kitchen and do so in short bursts. This helps keep the experience fun. You can then build up their training on dog walks once the time comes.

Step three: Preparation, patience and routine

Before leaving home, make sure you have the equipment and treats you’ll need for the walk. Consistency is key in training, and never more so than with lead training because of all the distractions and smells around. Running out of chicken half way through a walk could set your puppy’s training back and cause frustration. It’s important to stay patient with your puppy, even if they pull, stop or want to go home. They are still babies, learning about the world and taking in all the sights and sounds. If they indicate they are uncomfortable, don’t push them, as this could build negative associations for future walks.

Dogs love routine and puppies do too! Your puppy should get their daily exercise at around the same time, so that they can rest and assimilate their experiences in between. Puppies tend to rest for an average of 18 hours each day, and it’s thought they take in what they’ve learnt throughout the day while they’re asleep.

Step four: Approach other dogs and people carefully

Every interaction your puppy has during these formative months has the potential to shape their behaviour. This means that positive associations can help the development of an outgoing and friendly dog, but it is important to look out for your puppy during their first walks. If you see other dogs approaching, explain your puppy is very young and new to the outdoors, asking if the other dog is friendly. If not, move your puppy away to avoid an unpleasant interaction for them.

If people want to greet your puppy, check their body language and see if your puppy seems happy and relaxed. If they seem nervous, don’t feel bad communicating this and explaining they need their space. Your puppy will benefit from not becoming overwhelmed or stressed on walks.

Step five: Balanced walks for balanced behaviour

Creating balance on walks can work wonders for good behaviour at home. Let your puppy sniff and approach different objects and surfaces, as this is how they learn about the world around them. Encourage your puppy to check in with you and to walk on a loose lead, before they are allowed to approach items of interest.

As your puppy gets older and more confident, they may want to spend their whole walk playing with other dogs. Let this happen at certain moments, but also incorporate obedience training at calmer points on walks. This will help maintain a strong bond with you as their owner.

Last but not least, keep walks short and sweet at first. Maximise positive experiences and interactions to keep your puppy happy. Then bring them home for a well-earned nap!

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