Bringing a new puppy into your home is like opening a chapter filled with joy, playfulness, and countless 'firsts'. One of the most exhilarating of these is the first walk outside â a moment that marks the beginning of countless adventures and bonding experiences.
But amidst the excitement, a crucial question arises - when is it safe to take your furry little friend outside for a walk?
In this guide we offer advice from veterinary experts to help you navigate this important phase of your puppy's life. We'll explore the ideal timeline for those initial steps outside, taking into account vaccinations, socialisation needs, and safety precautions, ensuring that your puppy's first outdoor adventures are as joyful and safe as they should be.
In this article, we'll discuss:
1. The Role of Socialisation in Puppy Development
2. Understanding Puppy Vaccinations
3. The Ideal Age for a Puppy's First Walk
4. Safety Measures for Early Outdoor Adventures
5. Training and Preparing for the First Walk
6. Stepping out the front gate
7. When to Introduce Public Spaces and Dog Parks
The Role of Socialisation in Puppy Development
The first 14 to 16 weeks of your puppy's life is when they will be most open to new experiences and is often referred to as the 'socialisation window'. Socialising your puppy involves exposing them to lots of different environments, things, people and animals in a positive and safe way to help them have the best chance of being well adjusted canine citizens.
As this window coincides with the period of time in which your puppy may not have full protection from their vaccinations, it's crucial to choose the location of any socialisation very wisely. This is particularly important for avoiding parvovirus, which still kills plenty of puppies in Australia every year.
If you have friends or family members with healthy, fully vaccinated, well socialised dogs you could also ask them to come around for a puppy playdate. Just be sure to keep an eye on things to make sure the play doesn't get out of hand. Puppies learn their social skills by 14 weeks of age therefore it is important to be involved and help learn the appropriate way to interact with other dogs and humans.
You can take your puppy out in public if necessary, however, you should always carry them and not let them on the ground, nor come in contact with unknown dogs before they have finished their full course of puppy vaccinations.
Understanding Puppy Vaccinations
A typical vaccination course for puppies involves 3 injections spaced approximately 4 weeks apart. These usually occur at 6 to 8 weeks of age, 12 to 14 weeks of age, and 16 to 18 weeks of age but this can vary depending on your location and the type of vaccine your vet uses.
In general, dogs in Australia are routinely vaccinated against Canine Parvovirus, Canine Adenovirus (Infectious Hepatitis), Canine Distemper Virus and Kennel cough (Canine Parainfluenza II +/- Bordetella bronchiseptica). Additional vaccinations like Leptospirosis may be recommended in certain areas so consult with your veterinarian for recommendations specific to your pup's needs.
The Ideal Age for a Puppy's First Walk
Vaccinations can take up to two weeks to have their full effect so, unless your vet has advised otherwise, avoid taking your puppy out and about, particularly to dog parks, beaches and other dog hotspots until 2 weeks after they have had their final vaccination.
While at your vets, this is a great opportunity to make sure your puppy's microchip details are correct. Microchips are the best way to ensure your puppy will be back home with you quickly if they become lost.
Safety Measures for Early Outdoor Adventures
It is very important to talk to your vet before heading out on your first big adventure together. Your vet will know which areas to avoid, for example, your local dog park may have recently had dogs with Parvo Virus or Kennel Cough visit there.
Parasites are another risk that your puppy will be exposed to when they venture out into the big, wide world. Ticks and fleas are ever present in the environment and worms and other internal parasites can be picked up by your pup from contaminated soil and water. Not only are these parasites a risk to your pup's health and wellbeing but some of these parasites can be passed on to humans so your own health may also be at risk.
Your puppy's intestinal worm treatment should have been started when they were two weeks of age and they need treatment every two weeks until they are twelve weeks of age. Your vet will be able to help you formulate a safe and effective parasite control program for your pup which is tailored to their individual needs and the risks present in your local area.
Training and Preparing for the First Walk
Although most dogs love going for a walk, puppies can find being attached to a collar and lead daunting at first. With a lot of patience and the right approach, you will have your puppy walking on the lead like a pro in no time.
It is best to begin training with a simple flat collar and light lead. Make sure you stock up on training treats because you will be using them a lot throughout the process! Get your puppy used to wearing the collar by putting it on for short periods of time to begin with. If you notice them scratching at the collar try and redirect their attention with a game or short training session to take their mind off it.
Once they are used to the collar, you can start to get them accustomed to the feeling of the lead dragging behind. An easy way to do this is to attach the lead and let them run around or play in the backyard under your supervision.
Now you can start to pick up the lead and train your puppy to walk alongside you. Some dogs may just start trotting happily alongside you, but others can be more challenging. Consistent, positive reinforcement training, as well as choosing an appropriate harness, collar and lead is the key to helping your pup adapt and, if you experience any problems, the guidance of a professional trainer will set you both up for success.
Stepping out the front gate
Puppy's first walk can be an overwhelming time very similar to a child's first day at school. Make this walk short and stress free by keeping to a route you are familiar with like along the footpath to the corner of your street and back. Pick a time when there will be the least amount of activity and noise around your pup and don't forget to take plenty of treats! Your puppy's first walk will shape the way they feel about walking in the future so it is critical to make it as much fun as you can.
Baby puppies expend a lot of energy playing and getting into mischief at home so it is not necessary to take them for long walks when you first start out. Be mindful of your puppy's limitations and observe them carefully for any signs of fatigue or heat stress. As your puppy adapts to walking, gradually increase the lengths of their walks by about five minutes per week.
When to Introduce Public Spaces and Dog Parks
Dog parks and public areas can certainly provide many benefits for puppies including mental and physical enrichment, exposure to new experiences and a chance to socialise with other dogs and humans. Unfortunately, as well as infectious diseases and parasites, you and your puppy can be at risk from the behaviour of other dogs and humans. There is no guarantee that you and your pup will encounter well socialised and well-behaved dogs and humans when you are out and about. It is wise to choose quiet times to go out walking, be aware of your surroundings and don't be distracted from keeping an eye on your puppy.
Dog parks in particular are a high energy, high arousal environment that has the potential to escalate at any moment. Even suburban streets and urban cafe precincts can pose problems for you and your puppy. It is best to do a risk assessment of any public areas you would like to take your puppy and find out things like are there any roaming dogs in the area and when these areas are very busy.
With some forethought, planning and help from your vet, you and your puppy's first walk can mark the start of a lifetime of joyful adventures and wondrous shared experiences.
Walking your dog regularly doesn't just keep them fit and healthy, it also has benefits for you including lower blood pressure, reduced stress and increased cardiovascular fitness. Just be sure to stay safe and don't forget the poo bags!