Dog walker petting upside down dog

Puppy’s first walk – dos and don’ts for puppy owners

Puppy’s first walk is such an exciting milestone in your pup’s young life, and as they take their first steps into the unknown, it is up to us as puppy owners to make this experience as positive and beneficial as possible. Before you set foot outside with pup in tow, let us walk you through it with our expert tips on the dos and don’ts of puppy’ first walk.

We want to start our puppy’s first walk on the right paw, so preparation is important. Firstly, you will need to make sure your puppy is comfortable in their new collar and harness before you even think about walking them. Collars and harnesses should be introduced slowly so that your puppy can get used to it before it’s put into use.

The collar should be nice and light and have a tag displaying the owner’s names, address and postcode. This is a legal requirement of the Control of Dog’s Act. To introduce the collar, you need to teach your puppy that it is a good thing! You can do this by building up a positive association with the collar. Show your puppy the collar, then give him a tasty treat. Repeat this regularly until you get a happy, wiggly puppy upon seeing the collar (positive association has been made!) then build on this by loosely putting it around your pup’s neck for a few seconds, rewarding him and then removing it. Repeat this regularly, gradually building up the duration that your puppy is wearing the collar until they are happy to wear their collar all the time.

You can use the same process to introduce a harness which we do recommend using for puppies as it puts less strain on their necks, is safer and makes them more comfortable. Introducing the lead can also be done before your first walk in a very similar way. Put your pup’s harness on, clip the lead to it for a few seconds, reward and remove the lead again. Gradually build up the duration that the lead is attached and let your puppy explore your house and garden on the lead so that they get used to the feel of it. Throwing out treats for them to find whilst they are wearing their lead is a great way of doing this.

Before you set foot outside with your precious pooch you need to plan ahead. Consider where you want to go, the time of day, how busy it will be etc. It will be a huge deal to your puppy so you don’t want to expose him to too much too soon. Pick a nice quiet place at a quiet time to get started. Arm yourself with poo bags to clean up any messes, and small tasty treats so that you can reward any nice behaviour from your puppy right away.

The first walk is essentially a whole new world to your puppy so he may be shy, excited or overwhelmed by it (think first day at school). It’s really important to let him make choices for himself, if he’s scared and wants to stay put for a bit, it’s OK to let him. If he wants to bound along snuffling in the grass then go with it! Keep a nice loose lead and follow your puppy as long as its safe to do so.

Sniffing and stopping to look at new things are all part of socialisation to new experiences so make sure that you let your dog do as much of this as he wants to. Dogs examine things using their eyes, ears, nose, (and sometimes mouth) and especially when he is encountering anything potentially scary or exciting (new people/dogs, new smells, new places) your dog needs to practice these behaviours to help him feel more secure.

Forcing him to walk at a constant pace in a straight line without sniffing at this age is nearly impossible, and will be very frustrating and can be frightening for your puppy as they don’t have chance to examine new things or assess what they perceive as potential threats. It’s really important to remember that the walk is for them, not for you, it should never be quantified by distance but only by how much of a fun, positive experience it was for your puppy.

When meeting new people, always ask if it’s OK for your puppy to say hello to them first. Ask them to stay still and let your puppy approach them, as people invading their space can be quite intimidating. This approach gives your puppy the choice to say hello and will help him feel more secure and confident.

Take a similar approach with new dogs, but again it is really important to check with the other dog’s owner before you let them say hello. Some dogs, for whatever reason, will react badly to the approach of others, they may have had bad experiences in the past, be unwell, arthritic or recovering from injury and not appreciate a puppy approaching. We want our puppies to have positive experiences so we need to be a little bit cautious on their behalf and make sure we help them make the right choices and introductions. If you have a friend with a friendly dog this might be the best option for first dog on dog introductions.

As with the other aspects of walking on lead, you want to have a nice loose lead so your puppy can make choices for himself. Tension on the lead can cause stress and prevent dogs from expressing body language and communicating effectively, so keep your lead loose wherever it is safe to do so. Walks at this age are a bit of a sniffing, meandering ramble, but when your pup chooses to walk near you, follow you, or look at you to check in, or says hello politely to a human or dog, make a point to reward their excellent choices with something tasty. If we reward what we like its likely to occur more often.

You want your puppy to choose to follow you and be near you and be polite to others, so encourage it and reward it when it happens spontaneously, it will make later training so much easier. You can also use your body and voice to become exciting and encourage your puppy to stay with you or chase you new direction – this is very useful for getting away from those that do not want to say hello!

After your walk, your puppy will need a nap, even if he’s acting overexcited for five minutes (think overtired toddler). But try not to encourage play, he’s just had a huge new experience and will need rest. If you let him have a drink then leave him alone, he’ll soon be fast asleep dreaming of his next outdoor adventure!