You’re All Set To Walk Your Puppy- But Are They?

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.

They either:

  • 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).

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

4 Replies to “You’re All Set To Walk Your Puppy- But Are They?”

  1. This puppy walking restriction is a real issue for me. I have a young tervueren (now 6 months old) and the 5 minute per month rule went out the window instantly. This is a dog with so much energy that it seems like madness to keep him running circles in the garden all day, and then go out for only a few minutes every day. We were at 2-3 hours outside at 3 months, not running or walking all the time, but if he got access to other dogs, he can play for 2-3 hours no problem. My issue is this – if I lived on a farm and had another dog, my puppy would play and run for several hours a day, without that counting as a “walk”, right? So a lonely puppy that only gets to play with other dogs on walks, should he not be able to handle just as much per day? I do not want to cause physical harm to my dog, but at the same I feel that restricting his walks outside our little garden would be emotionally harmful to him. He really loves other dogs, and doesn’t want to go home from the wilderness area we go to to meet K9 friends. Now, at 6 months, he goes at least 2,5 km to 6 km per day, during a 3 to 5 hour outing. Does anyone have real life experience in this field?

    1. Hi Jackie. The recommendations in this article are based on experience watching young puppies develop injuries like OCD from early excessive activity. I understand your problem, but I also would disagree that it’s natural that dogs run around this much when they are young. It’s also worth remembering that dogs have been bred a long way away from wolves, and are much much more likely to develop problems during growth. Having said all this, leash activity and calm off leash walking is very unlikely to cause anywhere near as much harm as uninhibited play or fetch games for example.

  2. Dear Andrew,
    love your advice and have been reading you column for nearly the last two years. Can you settle an argument for me? We currently walk our 3yr old Irish terrier using a slip lead. I think a harness would be better for her neck and my husband disagrees. he thinks he needs it to control her because she still gets very excited when meeting other dogs? Please arbitrate

    1. Hi Anne. This is an excellent question and highly relevant to the topic. From vets’ perspective, it’s a black-and-white issue. We feel that neck restraint is problematic, and in fact more so the more excitable a dog becomes. It’s actually only considered appropriate for dogs that don’t get excited and don’t pull and of course these are rare.
      Our concerns are that the neck is the last place in the body you want to apply force, even if it is effective. There are certainly instances of damage occurring through traction on the nerves, blood vessels and trachea. The second issue is that restriction of the neck appears to increase the chance of a dog having an aggressive response.
      Our approach is to use harnesses, especially the front attach variety or head collars. The former are now much more favoured. There’s a link in the article to what I consider to be the best one available at the moment. I can tell you that when I switched my very excitable Jack Russell onto one of these he pulled considerably less, even when it was attached at the rear access point.

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