Bringing home a new best friend? There’s no more exciting time – but those first walkies really lay the foundations for a happy, healthy life together. Read our puppy walking tips for everything you need to know
Top puppy walking tips from Lintbells
When it comes to nurturing a happy, healthy adult, what happens in puppyhood really matters. We need to take care of our pups physically and mentally, safeguarding both their growing bodies and their emerging personalities.
Before puppy walking comes immunisation
As soon as you bring your pup home from your rescue centre or breeder, you should pop to the vets for a check up and to get their immunisations under way. Puppies are usually vaccinated against parvovirus, distemper, leptospirosis and adenovirus 1 and 2. Your pup’s initial vaccinations usually cost between £30 and £60, but these ‘jabs’ are vital – all of these diseases are potentially fatal, and very expensive to treat if your new best friend becomes poorly.
What does all this have to do with puppy walking tips?
You shouldn’t start to walk your pup until after they’ve completed their vaccination course – though you can take them into your garden for toileting, begin collar/harness and lead training, and carry them around in a bag to socialise them (more on that in a minute).
Good to know...
If your pup will spend time with other dogs – in kennels or at doggy daycare – consider kennel cough and canine parainfluenza immunisation. If you’ll take your young dog abroad, you’ll need to vaccinate against rabies too.
Lead training before puppy walking
Collars and leads feel strange to puppies, so introduce your pup gradually, well in advance of first walkies. Start with the collar. Buy a small, light collar (or harness if you prefer) and pop it on whilst feeding treats. Take it off again. Repeat until your pup runs up when the collar or harness comes out – this may take a couple of days, but be patient.
Then add a short piece of string, ribbon or wool (about 20 cm) where you would attach the lead. Let your pup run around and get used to the sensation. Next, add a longer piece of string, and encourage them to come to you with a treat or toy whilst giving a very gentle tug on the string. Feed the treat, and follow them as they explore your home or garden. If they stop, you stop too, and encourage them with a treat to start moving again. Then swap for their first lead. Now you can even start training ‘heel’ or ‘stay close’ if you want to. Just keep it fun and positive, so they see the lead and collar or harness as the start of good things!
Getting out and about before immunisation is complete
Before you begin your puppy walks, your pup can start experiencing the world by being carried around with you in a bag. This is really important, as pups are most open to new experiences and learning new things between the ages of 4-12 weeks. No need to spend lots on a fancy bag unless you’d like to – there’s a DIY guide to repurpose a basic tote here.
Be careful not to over-stimulate or overwhelm your puppy – and remember that puppy bladders are small! A couple of short trips out and about after mealtimes and subsequent toilet trips is a great way to start socialising your pup. Why not take your puppy to the shops, to a cafe or pub, for a short bus ride, or to visit friends and family? This is the start of a process that’s called socialisation and habituation.
What is socialisation and habituation?
Young dogs – just like human babies – need to learn about the world around them. It’s really important to carefully shape their experiences so they are introduced to all the things that we take for granted, that might be a bit scary or intimidating to a young pup.
Did you know?
Habituation and socialisation actually starts before you bring your puppy home – he or she is learning from their mum and siblings, and the human family who bring them up. That’s why – if you buy a puppy from a breeder – it’s really important to look for someone who raises pups in the home so they get used to all the hubbub of domestic life. Most rescues are very good at fostering pregnant mummies to experienced helpers who have raised lots of confident pups, but it’s worth asking them too.
What do puppies find intimidating?
From buses to babies to men with beards… it’s a big world out there, and your pup needs your help to make sense of it. We’ll be creating a happy, healthy puppy guide to help you with this process soon, but in the meanwhile, buy a good puppy DVD or book and remember the following points:
- Think about everything your pup will experience as an adult – other creatures, travel, noises, different kinds and ages of people.
- Make sure your pup experiences these things in a positive way – lots of treats and play.
- Don’t over-do it – learn the secret signs of stressed dogs, and as soon as your pup seems overwhelmed, remove him or her from the situation.
- Never shout at your puppy or use force – positive reinforcement creates happier, mentally healthier adult dogs and more trusting dog/owner relationships.
How to socialise and habituate – kids and puppies
The best way to explain is an example: socialising and habituating your pup with small children. This should be done gradually, and in stages that makes it a fun experience for the puppy. This theory applies to all new experiences and introductions.
Make the first interaction very short – let the children feed a treat, but not stroke – then gradually build up time together. Be sure the children understand not to pick up your puppy, hug it, or chase it if it retreats to its bed or crate. Explain that it’s still a tiny baby, and that even little people can seem big and scary to small puppies! As soon as the puppy backs away or shows any sign of stress, remove him or her from the situation, providing reassurance and distraction. Toys or treats are good for this.
Top tip – never leave children and dogs unsupervised and encourage little ones to only ever touch the dog or puppy with one hand. This stops children hugging dogs, which is one of the top causes of stress in child/canine interactions.
Immunisations are done – time for walkies! Once your pup has had their second course of immunisation and your vet has given the go ahead, it’s time to start walkies! But how far should you walk your puppy? Where should you go? What should you be doing together?
How far to walk a puppy
It’s best to ask your vet their recommendations on puppy walking at your immunisation consultation – it varies from breed to breed – but broadly speaking, the Kennel Club’s guidelines are a good starting point. They say:
“A good rule of thumb is a ratio of five minutes exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown, i.e. 15 minutes (up to twice a day) when three months old, 20 minutes when four months old etc. Once they are fully grown, they can go out for much longer.”
We’ve made a table to help with this – it can be a bit confusing!
Top tips for puppy’s first walk
Go somewhere quiet and don’t expect too much. Some puppies will be super-excited to discover the world, while others will be less outgoing. Let your pup guide the speed and let them stop, sniff and explore.
Provide lots of positive encouragement and reassurance, and if they become overwhelmed, pause for a cuddle and some reassurance, then head home. Walkies is a kind of socialisation, so remember the pointers above:
- Take it at puppy’s pace.
- Make it fun with treats and play.
- Stop if your pup seems stressed or overwhelmed.
It’s also really important to be a responsible dog owner from day one, and pack your ‘walkies essentials’: treats to reward your pup, poo bags, a phone for emergencies, and a bottle of water.
Protecting growing joints
Making sure walkies are appropriate to your pup’s needs and include keeping an eye on the kind of exercise they’re doing, too. Large breeds and breeds prone to joint challenges in later life should be discouraged from rough play, running up and down stairs, or jumping on and off furniture to avoid accidental injuries. You might also consider supporting their growth with a general supplement like YUM Puppy, or a joint supplement like YuMOVE Active Dog once they’re on solid foods.
What about other dogs?
It’s important that your puppy meets other dogs out and about, but it’s equally important to make sure experiences are positive ones. Always talk to other dog owners before letting your puppy approach – not all dogs are happy to mix with others, especially if your pup is very bouncy and playful.
Dogs wearing yellow ‘give me space’ clothes and leads should always be avoided – and it’s wise to be careful around older dogs and injured dogs. If your puppy bounds up being friendly, the other dog might feel intimidated and (quite reasonably!) growl or snap to warn them away.
What if there’s trouble?
It’s possible that your puppy may have a negative experience when out on early walks… after all, there’s only so much we can control as dog owners. If something not-so-positive happens, depending on how scary the incident is, you might want to talk to a behaviourist to get some advice to help your pup. A little expert help before your pup becomes fearful and reactive can be a great investment. Learn more about anxiety in dogs and how behavioral therapy can help them. If you do need expert help, the register of ASAB Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CCABs) is a good place to start.
Should puppies go off-lead?
This is a tricky one. We’d recommend keeping control using a long line whilst you work on recall (coming back when called), but if your pup is playing with another pup this won’t always be practical. A great alternative is finding a safe, enclosed place to play like a special dog area of the park… or hosting a puppy party in your garden!
Top tip – if your pup is off-lead in the park and won’t come back when called, run fast in the opposite direction, making excited noises. You’ll look a bit crazy, but 99% of puppies will be intrigued by the game and quickly run after you. It’s about ‘thinking dog’ and becoming more exciting than whatever they’re focused on!
Where to go puppy walking?
That’s the fun bit! One of the best things about sharing your life with a dog is the adventures you go on together. From urban rambles and discovering new routes through your local areas, through to playing on the beach and getting out and about in the countryside, it’s all up for grabs!
In the early days, we’d also recommend taking your puppy socialisation carry-bag with you on walkies… though little legs may have had enough walkies, little eyes, ears and noses will be soaking up all the amazing places you can adventure together. Great places to get inspired include The National Trust, English Heritage and your local council website.
We hope you’ve found our puppy walking tips useful, and would love to hear how you’re all getting on with your new best friends. Why not let us know below, or pop over and join in the chat on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Go on, brighten our days with some gorgeous puppy pics…