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Tips for taking your puppy out for the first time

Everything you need to know for your pup's first walk

Written by vet Dr. Steph Wenban

April 16, 2019

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.

You’ve brought your new puppy home. You’ve got them settled in. Now it’s time for the fun stuff - WALKIES!

But as exciting as this next step is, taking your pup out for their first stroll doesn’t always go as smoothly as many pet parents expect. For some puppies, the experience of being whisked into a big, loud, unfamiliar environment can be very unsettling. While for others, it can send them into excitement-overdrive.

The reality is, you’ll have no idea how your puppy will react until you’re actually out there. But there are some things you can do to ensure your puppy’s first adventure outdoors is a positive one.

Practice at home first

  • Quick tip: Before your puppy’s first walk, have them wear their collar or harness around the house first. Once they get used to the feel of it, you can then introduce their lead.

When training your puppy to walk at home, have them follow you around with a lot of slack on the lead. Once they get the hang of it, you can start encouraging them to walk beside you, using lots of praise and training treats as positive reinforcement.

Some puppies may master this in a few minutes, while for others it may take a few days. Regardless of how quickly your pup takes to it, just remember to take things nice and slow and to make the experience as fun and positive as possible.

They’ll learn to walk beside you soon enough, and when they do, it’ll be time to step out for their big pavement debut!

Select a comfy harness or collar

  • Quick tip: Deciding whether to kit your puppy out with a harness or a collar can be tricky. But as far as your pup's health is concerned, you can rest assured that both options are absolutely fine. Just make sure whichever style you choose is soft, lightweight, and properly-fitted to your pup.

The only exception to this would be if your puppy is a small breed (like a Chihuahua or Pomeranian) or a short-nosed breed that’s predisposed to breathing problems (like a Pug or French Bulldog).

Because small breeds have delicate airways that are prone to collapse, you’re better off avoiding collars - which can put additional pressure on your pup’s throat - and opting for a harness instead.

The same goes for flat-faced dogs. Because of their small nostrils and folds of excess skin around their airways, they’ll be much better suited to a soft harness.

One last thing to bear in mind when strapping your puppy into their preferred exercise gear is that every dog in the UK is required by law to wear an identification tag with their owner's name and address when out in public.

Make sure your puppy's vaccinations are up to date

  • Quick tip: If your puppy isn’t vaccinated against certain diseases, they’ll be at risk of picking them up from contaminated areas - that’s any area a dog carrying one of the diseases has coughed, sneezed, or done a number two. In the UK, the big ones you need to be careful of are Parvo, Canine Distemper, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, and Leptospirosis.

If you’re unsure if your puppy has had all the vaccinations they need, always check with your vet before taking them out for their first walk. And remember: some vaccinations take up to two weeks to offer complete coverage.

Also check that any canine companions your puppy will be interacting with are up-to-date on their vaccinations, too.

Know your puppy's limits

  • Quick tip: A quick way to work out how much walking your puppy needs is to take their age in months and multiply it by 5 minutes. The duration you get is how long you should be walking your pup twice a day.

Exercise is important. But just because your pup is bouncing off the walls at home, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to go pounding the pavement for hours on end.

And why not?

Your puppy is still growing. Until their growth plates close and their bones harden up (two things that don’t occur until adulthood), any excessive exercise could interrupt their development and potentially lead to bone and joint problems later in life.

Your best bet? Take your puppy out for short, regular walks but hold off on anything too strenuous until they hit adulthood. Just remember that this will be different for every breed.

Small dogs grow faster and typically reach adulthood at around 9 months, whereas larger breeds can take anywhere from 12-18 months to fully fill out.

Choose a quiet, calm location

  • Quick tip: Opt for somewhere safe, quiet, and closed off from any vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

Walks aren’t only a great way for your puppy to get more physical, they’re also a useful tool for getting your pup acclimatised to new environments. So even if you have a garden with endless room for your pup to run, it’s important that you make regular efforts to branch beyond the home.

For their first walk, try to take your puppy somewhere calm and be sure to give them lots of time to stop and explore. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to pound the pavement with your pup later on. But for now, if they want to stop and sniff every rock, stick, and stone under sun, let them!

Quick word of wisdom:

If you live in a busy area, it might help to introduce your puppy to a confident, well-behaved dog who can then accompany them on their first walk. Think of it as kind of like an orientation buddy...only cuter.

Don't stress if your pup doesn't want to walk

  • Quick tip: The goal of your puppy’s first walk isn’t to rack up as many steps as humanly (or canine-ly) possible. It’s simply to build positive associations with being outside. So if they don’t want to walk, don’t stress. As long as you're making the experience safe and fun, that’s all that matters for now.

Your puppy’s first walk is likely to be a daunting experience. So don’t be overly surprised if they freeze up or scramble to get back into your arms. Just try to take things slow and steady. Spending time outdoors in small increments will help to build up your pup’s confidence until eventually, the concept of ‘walkies’ goes from being a scary one, to your pup’s raison d’etre.

Encourage interaction with other dogs

  • Quick tip: Interacting with other dogs is important for your puppy’s social development and should always be encouraged. Just make sure the dogs you let into your pup’s inner social circle are well-behaved and vaccinated.

Your puppy’s first play session is a lot like a child’s first day of school - bound to get the butterflies going! Which is why it’s important for you to remain calm and confident throughout the whole process. Although they might not look it, your pup is a perceptive little creature. So whatever vibes you're putting down, they’re bound to pick up.

The only exception to this would be if any boisterous dogs come unexpectedly bounding into the mix. In this instance, you should intervene by picking your puppy up before any contact is made.

Why? Your puppy is still developing their fear responses. Any unsettling encounters with energetic dogs at this stage may lead your puppy to think these personalities ought to be avoided.

There’ll be plenty of opportunities for your puppy to become acquainted with the ‘top dogs’ at their local park later on. But for now, it’s best to hold off on introductions until your pup’s found their feet in the great outdoors and homed their social cues.

For more information on acclimatising your puppy to other dogs, check out this article on socialisation.

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