Puppies aren’t just born with the skills they need to go on calm and happy walks with you. (Unless you are really lucky). We need to teach them the skills they need to enjoy walks with their favourite humans. Here are 5 tips to help both you and your puppy enjoy walks from Niki French at Pup Talk.
When can I take my puppy for a walk?
You might be super keen to get your puppy into the outside world as soon as your vet has given the all-clear on their immunity. But it is better to build up some of the skills and behaviours they need to be able to go for a walk before you head out of the front door.
Start with positive introductions with the lead, collar and harness. You can just feed them a few pieces of food while holding the equipment, so they get used to the sounds and smells of it. Don’t give them the opportunity to start biting and chewing it. You can use food to encourage them to play a game of ‘pop their head through a harness’ and straight back out. You don’t want to be grabbing your puppy to wrestle them into anything. Carry on feeding and playing a little once the collar or harness is on so that they’re not focused on this strange new sensation.
Once you are outside, the world can be scary or exciting for them. Either way, they will struggle to concentrate and learn how to walk nicely with you. Practise them happily wearing their lead, collar, harness and walking around your home or garden.
You can start on some great positive rewards training games from day 1 that teach skills to help them walk calmly on the lead, by your side. And you don’t need to leave the home to do this.
It’s fine to drive them or pick them up (if they’re not too big and they’re happy in your arms) and carry them to places so that you can be working on some positive socialisation experiences like getting used to a slightly busier area or a bus stop.
Don’t let your puppy get into bad habits early on
If your small puppy gets used to pulling on their lead or jumping up to greet strangers, guess what? They get better at it! They are getting to practise it. Unless you have a very small breed, once they’re bigger, those behaviours might not be so welcome.
It is absolutely not the job of someone else’s dog or puppy to ‘tell them off’ or show them how to behave. Don’t let your puppy rush up to any other dogs. That dog may be nervous of other dogs or find puppies too boisterous. Keep your puppy on a lead (or longer training line in an open space) so that you can control who and when your puppy gets to interact with.
Don’t get frustrated
When a puppy is zigzagging all over the place, jumping up and biting the lead, or running around your legs and tying you up with their lead it can get a bit frustrating. Be mindful of how you are feeling. They are just babies really (and you might be sleep-deprived). Telling a puppy off doesn’t help them learn what you’d like them to do instead.
If you go out with your puppy before they’ve eaten a meal you can take some of their daily food out with you and use it to reward them as you walk along. If they’re a little hungry, they will be more focused on you. Even just stopping to watch the world go by and calmly feeding them a little food piece by piece grows useful skills in a young dog.
If a walk isn’t a positive experience for both of you, cut it short and head home. You can play some great games to gently tire out their mind and body at home. And probably with a lot less stress.
How long should I walk a puppy for?
It is very easy for puppies to overdo it. They are still growing and often don’t know when they need to rest. You need to be the sensible one and not over-walk them. The amount of time a puppy should spend walking and playing varies with age and breed.
A rough guide is 5 minutes per month of their age, once or twice a day. So that’s 15 minutes at 3 months of age, 1-2 times/day. Build up their stamina and fitness slowly. Tired puppies also don’t make such good decisions and are more likely to be practising behaviours that you don’t want (like barking at strangers, biting the lead, or pulling).
It’s also worth thinking about the equipment you are using to walk them. Dogs’ necks’ are really quite delicate, so well-fitting harnesses are a good idea.
Aim for fewer but positive experiences
Long periods of boisterous play with another dog or puppy aren’t teaching your puppy that you’re the most fun in the park.
Keep any interactions with other dogs short and sweet. The most important relationship that your puppy will have, is with you. It’s hard for you to compete on the fun stakes with another 4 legs and a waggy tail!
Spend time playing games with your puppy (on walks and at home). I’d recommend staying off your phone or not listening to podcasts/music so that you stay fully engaged with your pup. Otherwise, they may well want to go and investigate something else that is more fun.
Likewise, anything new may be exciting or scary for your puppy. Watch their body language – do they look scared or happy or excited? Don’t push them into situations that they don’t seem to be ready for. When in doubt, don’t do it.
Having fewer but only positive experiences is so much better than lots of experiences where some of them are scary, overwhelming or too exciting. You want your puppy to grow up happy and confident (and want to be with you rather than any other dog they come across).
Bonus puppy tips
Always take more poo bags than you think you need. Some dogs may go 1-4 times on a walk, and you don’t want to be caught short! And when a stranger has forgotten theirs, you can come to their rescue!
Finally, if you are bringing your puppy home for the first time, then please don’t forget to first puppy proof your home!
Looking for more dog walking tips? Be sure to get a copy of Niki’s latest best-seller Stop Walking Your Dog today!