A milestone is reached! You’ve been waiting for this day for weeks, you’ve had all the vaccinations done, you’ve got the brand-spanking new harness and lead ready, you’ve been carrying your puppy everywhere and their energy has only been increasing. You’ve been counting down the days until you can finally take them on that first walk and you believe that your puppy is as desperate as you to get out into the world and have their first adventure. The day has come, you’re on your walk and what’s this? Luna doesn’t want to go anywhere? Teddy has stopped walking and is instead shivering? Bella has decided to drag you home?
This is not what you expected! It is however, very normal and not something to panic about, yet. This is a totally regular scenario that my clients find themselves in. We’ve had a long time to take in everything the world has to offer and a puppy needs the same. That first walk can be super overwhelming, the sights, smells, sounds and feelings are all quite new and combined that’s a lot of information for those babies to process. This often means sometimes your puppy needs a moment to sit and watch, to take it all in. This might mean that they only want to spend five minutes outside the first time. It might mean that they still need you to carry them for some of the walk.
Lower your expectations and take those first few walks one step at a time, there will come a time when you’ll look back and laugh that your puppy didn’t want to walk because now you can’t slow them down!
I’ve gathered a few tips to set you both up for success on those first walks:
Generally, puppies do not like rain. Can you blame them? Ideally take them out for their first walk when the weather is nice and mild. They will encounter rain in the garden and when they are feeling confident on their walks you can start introducing them to the downside to the UK climate… Wait, is there an upside?
Puppies are not very good at thermoregulation that means if it’s cold to you, it is probably colder for your puppy! In the colder months I strongly recommend having a suitable coat or jumper for your puppy for their first walks.
Walking away from home when you’re feeling anxious and concerned goes against many instincts, the home that they’ve spent the last 8 glorious weeks offers safety and security and watching it get further away is often a cause for lots of puppies putting the brakes on during that first walk. I recommend choosing somewhere away from home and popping them in the car for a short exploration at your local park.
In addition to the previous point, quite often to get from our home to a suitable dog walking spot we must first walk past busy roads, bustling streets and noisy gardens, often with loud dogs barking at gates. This can all be quite terrifying (please see my blog on socialisation) and can hinder the walk progress, so travelling in the car to a quiet spot can be super helpful.
Make sure you have a well fitted harness that your puppy cannot back out of, a collar with a tag on, it’s the law that this displays your surname and address, and a 6m lead.
If your puppy does stop, that’s ok. Stop with them. Do not try to drag them but equally, do not give up and rush home. Give them a few minutes to muster up some courage, if they do start walking again, congratulate them and offer one of the tasty treats that I hope you’ve brought with you.
Reward every behaviour that makes you proud, EVERY SINGLE TIME. This isn’t forever of course, but it is for the first few walks. He does a pee? That’s big stuff, reward him. She watches a dog walk by and does not try to run toward or away? Amazing, reward that. Something scares him but instead of barking and running he watches and then sniffs? Perfect, give him a treat. We want to shape all these behaviours as soon as possible to help them become the dream dog.
It is unlikely that your dog will go to the toilet on the first few walks. You ever skip using a public loo because you’re feeling to tense? Then you get home and the first thing you can think of is your toilet? Puppies are the same, in the beginning going to the bathroom is the last thing they are thinking about and as soon as you get home you might find Fido pees on the door mat, uh oh! That’s because they’ve finally relaxed, taken a breath and thought ‘oh my, I am busting’. I advise you take them straight to their permitted toilet area at home as soon as you return and wait for that inevitable wee wee.
Your puppy does not need to say hello to every human and dog they come across. It’s often better for them to watch them pass and be rewarded for their calmness. We do not want to set the expectation that everyone is there to see them, trust me that gets draining. Equally it’s absolutely fine to say hello to the friendly neighbour and her dog who are both walking over very excitedly. Just make sure your puppy wants to say hello; be their advocate, if they look scared and try to move away, give them the space to do so.
Most of all, enjoy this phase whilst it lasts!