When can I walk my puppy?
Young animals are susceptible to disease before their immune systems have a chance to become effective. Puppies can get some immunity from their mothers (if mum was vaccinated), which protects them during the early weeks. This is why a pup’s first vaccination is not given until they are six to nine weeks of age. The second is given three weeks later and the puppy is fully protected after a further one week.
Since keeping a puppy isolated until 13 weeks old is likely to have a devastating effect on their ability to cope with life in general, a compromise must be reached between the need to protect against disease, and the need to ensure good mental health. As most of the socialisation process will involve humans rather than other dogs, such a compromise is feasible and, if the following guidelines are kept to, it is possible to socialise your puppy and avoid the risk of infection. Ask your vet for advice on the risks and benefits of socialisation.
Until your puppy is fully protected by vaccination you can reduce the risks of infection with the following dos and don’ts:
- don’t allow them to mix with dogs of unknown vaccination status
- don’t take them to parks or walk in other areas that other dogs have fouled
- do take them out as much as possible in non-doggy areas
- do carry your puppy when necessary to avoid unwanted contact from other dogs or soiled areas. It’s so important to let them experience the world, just do it safely and sensibly!
Exercising your puppy before they are fully vaccinated
During the stage where your puppy is not fully protected from disease and so can’t explore the world with all four paws on the floor, there are lots of things you can do to keep your puppy’s mind keen. Mental exercise, through play and socialisation, is just as important as physical exercise for dogs. Puppies of this age need lots of sleep, so keeping exercise within the boundaries of home will also ensure your new pup gets the right amount of shut-eye.
- After ensuring your garden is puppy-proofed, it can become a great space for your pup to tear about and let off some steam. If you don’t have a garden, choose an area of your home that your pup can run about in instead, but make sure the area is separate from any areas you wish your dog to settle and keep calm in so they learn to understand what is expected of them. This can be a great time to practice recall, too.
- Feeding your pup their dinner by stuffing it in a Kong or using a food-dispensing toy will help them to focus and can make dinner time fun!
- Games such as tug of war, hide and seek, and retrieving games are all brilliant fun for your pup. Remember to keep sessions short, and if you see them flagging, stop. Read more about how to play with your dog here.
Mental exercise and socialisation
Mental exercise is really tiring for young pups, whose brains are like sponges. Now is a good time to get them introduced to daily life and experiences:
- Take them in the car. This early stage of life is an excellent time to introduce them to travelling. Start by getting in the car and giving some treats before getting out again so your pup associates the car with good things. Over time, slowly build up to driving round the block.
- Carry them round the local neighbourhood to introduce them to the sights, sounds and smells of where they’ll be living and get them used to everyday experiences such as traffic, people, buggies, trees, cats and other animals, people etc. Popping them in a buggy (that they can’t jump out of!) is another way of getting them out and about without exposing them to harmful disease.
- Introduce them to their collar, harness and lead
- Make a start on basic training, such as sit, lie down, and stay
- Having positive experiences with lots of different people early on in life will help your dog to be confident for a lifetime. Once your pup has settled in, invite friends and family round for fun introductions.
Remember not to overtire your pup. Keep interactions with people and play short and lots of fun. When your puppy needs to sleep, let them, and make sure they are not interrupted before they awake on their own terms.
Taking your puppy for their first walk
Once your puppy has had their final vaccination, they will be fully protected from the diseases covered by vaccinating one week later. Then, they are ready to explore the world.
Before you venture out for their first official walk, it’s a good idea to have got them used to wearing their collar, harness (if you’ll use a harness) and a lead. We recommend using a standard lead that attaches to a harness so that if they pull, there is no discomfort to their neck. A standard, non-retractable lead will mean your puppy stays close to you, giving you more control over your puppy, and won’t have the unintended consequence of teaching them to pull on the lead.
Have some treats handy so you can praise your pup for good behaviour, and to use as a distraction should you need to.
Plan your route in advance and be prepared not to go very far. This will be such an exciting, and potentially a little worrying, experience for your youngster so let them take their time and give them lots of praise.
Decide before you step out the door how you will deal with other dogs. You may wish to let your pup say hello to other calm and polite dogs, but bouncy, excitable or out of control dogs may worry your pup. Watch out for who’s up ahead and if you’d rather your pup didn’t say hi to the approaching dog, simply turn and walk away. Try not to panic and pick your puppy up (unless you need to remove them from danger) as this may panic your pup and teach them to be fearful of dogs. Telling the other owner it’s your pup’s first outing and ensuring their dog will be polite will help keep the experience of meeting canine friends on walks a positive one. Don’t feel you have to allow your dog to meet every dog you pass – this can lead to inadvertently teaching your pup that every dog can be their best friend, which can cause problems.
Feel confident to say no to people, including children, who ask to stroke your pup if you feel now is not a good time. Politely explain that your pup is very young and isn’t quite ready to meet everyone yet. If you do feel confident in letting someone say hello, give your puppy the choice whether they want to say hi or not. If your pup shows interest by walking towards the person, ask the person to gently stroke your pup’s shoulder and stop if your pup wants to stop.
How often should I walk my puppy?
It won’t be a surprise to learn that the younger a puppy is, the less exercise they need. They type of exercise that is appropriate for youngsters also differs depending on age, and also breed. It is also important that your puppy is fed a diet appropriate to their age and size, and that they don’t put on excess weight. The best way to assess whether they are overweight is by feel. You should easily be able to feel the spine and the ribs and they should have a visible waist when seen from above. Read more about how to check your dog is a healthy weight in our puppy diet advice.
A major reason for this is the way a dog’s body develops; growing bones and joints are easily damaged and some injuries during the early stage of a dog’s life can impact them for life.
Low impact exercise, such as walking, puts far less stress on developing bones and joints than running and jumping does.
A general guide for exercising puppies is to allow them one to two sessions of five minutes walking for each month of age, so for example, a four month old pup could enjoy walks of 20 minutes at a time, once or twice a day. Continue this until they are fully grown and are of an age where their bodies can handle much longer walks and more strenuous activity. Try not to exceed the level of activity that they might have if playing with a pup of similar age and size, bearing in mind that puppies will also rest frequently.
These exercise sessions do not have to be fast paced on-lead walking. In fact, puppies will get just as much out of having a slow off-lead potter around a field or park to stop and sniff all the exciting smells! Continuing the fun play and mental workouts of training at home and on walks will also keep your pup fully exercised.
As with dogs of any age, if the temperature outside is very hot or cold, change your puppy’s exercise routine to suit the weather. Dogs, especially flat-faced breeds such as bulldogs and pugs, are easily susceptible to heatstroke because unlike humans they can’t sweat. Read our top tips for keeping your dog cool here.
Puppy exercise FAQs
Can I take my puppy jogging? It’s really not a good idea to put a young dog’s body under the strain of jogging at a human pace because of the potentially life-long impact on their bones and joints.
Can I sign my puppy up for agility? Agility is fantastic physical and mental exercise for fully grown dogs, and great for growing the relationship between you too, but the jumping, twisting and sprinting involved is not suitable for youngsters. Dogs cannot enter agility competitions until they are 18 months old. Some agility clubs take older puppies from around nine months to introduce them to the sport and will start with age-appropriate training, but for most it’s from around a year. If in doubt, ask your vet.
My puppy is a large or giant breed. How much exercise can they have? Using the five minutes for every month guide works for large and giant breeds of dog just as it does for smaller breeds, but big dogs take longer to reach maturity than smaller breeds, so (depending on breed) we recommend asking your vet, but as a guide, holding off on long walks until they are around 12 to 15 months old.