All new puppy owners are in a hurry to go for walk, and can you blame them? But in doing so, they often make one of three mistakes.
- go out too soon
- exercise too much, or
- turn walks into bad experiences
All three can have lasting consequences, but each one is easy to prevent.
When To Start Walking A Puppy
According to most vets, the earliest age to walk a puppy is when their second vaccination becomes protective. This will vary from 11 to 14 weeks, depending on the vaccine type and protocol used by each vet.
It is a little-known fact that puppy owners have some control over the first time they can go out walking. Vaccines used by breeders tend to be the ones that only protect at the oldest or latest age. However, there’s no reason you can’t choose an earlier one.
At Walkerville, our strategy for years has been to offer free puppy checks to try to catch these puppies in time. Otherwise, they would come in at 12 weeks like the breeder told them, and the pups would miss at least two weeks of outside socialisation time.
It’s important to point out that global vaccination guidelines dictate a 16 week parvovirus shot despite earlier protection being claimed by local manufacturers. Our approach to this dilemma is to advise owners that the risk between the second and third vaccine is extremely low, and easily outweighed by the urgent need to socialise.
How Far To Walk A Puppy
When you start walking it’s important to listen to your puppy and take it slow. The worst thing you could do right now is take the joy away by trying too hard too soon. Your entire focus should be on making walks fun, not long.
There is no single answer to how much or how far a puppy should be walked. Online calculators are available, but they are much too simplistic and fail to take into account individual needs or weather conditions. Over exercising is also common due to the mistaken belief that it will help puppies settle at night.
Therefore, if all you do is get to your driveway before your puppy stops, that’s OK. Maybe with a few treats, you can coax them a bit further the next time, or their curiousity will do it for you. Whatever you do, don’t pull them by the collar; they have to want to go.
If you suspect that anxiety might be stopping your puppy, get in touch with your vet straight away.
Once pups get brave enough, they often go too far unless prevented. Like kids, pups have very little stamina and will suddenly sit down and go no further. Therefore, start with very short trips, and only extend them when you are certain they can make it back. Of course, it doesn’t matter so much if your puppy is easily carried!
Pro tip: I always toilet train my puppies when outside using a leash, so that they stay in the right place and get accustomed to leads before starting walks.
Overexercise & Joint Problems
Many new owners have been warned about the risk of elbow and hip dysplasia caused by exercising too early. This applies especially to owners of young Labradors and Golden Retrievers. Here is some peace of mind.
The evidence behind overexercising puppies shows that the most critical age occurs while still at the breeder. Afterwards, as long as you keep them on a leash, a gentle walk should be purely beneficial.
Walking a puppy too much probably only occurs if you allow them to run and jump, or push them to achieve a target distance or time. Remember: it’s the outing that matters, not what they do.
Avoiding Bad Experiences
Good puppy socialisation is all about avoiding early bad experiences while maximising positive ones. You’ve already heard me warn you not to over-tire your puppy or push them too hard. Here are some of the other walking mistakes I see:
- Walking so far that the soft pads become worn through
- Using walks to meet other dogs on leash (read why here)
- Walking along busy or loud roads too soon
In fact, there are so many ways a pup could get a fright. Fear causes instant setbacks which can take weeks to undo. Therefore, have a look at this checklist of potential scares and take each one carefully at first with lots of treats.
Whatever you take away from this article, please don’t think that I’m trying to stop you getting out. Failing to expose a puppy to their world within their sensitive period is guaranteed to cause harm. The dangers of which I speak are easily avoided with a little care.
Coming soon: How Far To Walk Adult Dogs: it’s a whole different ballgame (hehehe).
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!