Your puppy is 12 weeks old and all vaccinated up. You’ve been to the pet shop and bought a lovely, colour co-ordinated collar and lead already for your puppies first walk! You are very excited and can’t believe it’s been such a long wait to get to this point! You just know your pup is going to love it. You put on the collar and lead – a bit of a struggle as the pup tries to wriggle free, but you manage it and you set off! The pup walks with you to the garden gate, tugging and mouthing on the lead and dancing around, but as soon you go out onto the road – the pup puts the brakes on. Refuses to walk. Looks upset and tries to back out of the collar. Whines and cries, ears back and tail tucked. You are perplexed! Surely your new pup can’t wait to see the outside world?! Don’t dogs love to go for walks?
Let’s just stop and think here. Your puppy has probably led quite a sheltered life so far, maybe just seen their breeders house, your house & garden, maybe the vets waiting room. Unless you’ve put in the hours doing some good solid outdoor socialisation, the puppy won’t know anything much about the outside world (or even that there is one), and even if he does, it will have been from the safety of your arms as you carried him so he didn’t pick up anything nasty. Consider how small the pup is in relation to everything else now he is on the ground, tethered to you by some weird string contraption which is stopping him running to safety. How big and noisy cars must seem, how scary people he doesn’t know are that loom over him to stroke his head and coo, how scary kids must seem – running up and crowding round to cuddle him. It’d be like you being dumped in a strange land of giants and expected to just have a great time, happy to be poked and prodded whilst tied to a post. Scary indeed.
Go with the flow….
First walks are often a huge disappointment to puppy owners and can be really quite traumatic for puppies, especially if they are naturally shy or even just a bit wary. Sure, they will learn to be excited in time, and with lots of enjoyable trips out, but right now, at the beginning? Cut the puppy some slack. Let it just have a sniff on the verges. Make sure it knows that you are there to offer comfort, safety and something tasty to make him feel good about this new massive world. Go slow. No route marches. No circuits of the park. Just sniffing, looking, bumbling along and taking it all in for a few minutes is all the puppy needs on these first on-the-ground adventures. No forced greetings, no dragging along on the lead. Slowly, slowly build your puppy’s confidence and the pup will quickly learn that being out and about is fun and exciting. Before you know it, you will be spelling the word ‘walk’ so the dog doesn’t catch on (although be warned, he will quickly learn to spell!), but for now, be thoughtful and kind, prepared to turn back, cut the walk short, give your puppy reassurance and sanctuary whenever he needs it. Failing to recognise how important this is can quickly lead to a puppy that barks at other dogs or tries to chase traffic, or lunges at strangers in the street, or point blank refuses to walk down the street. Everything the puppy sees is new – he needs to learn that these things are not to be feared or avoided or barked at and only you can help him with this. Be patient! After another few months/ years of daily dog walks you will see how precious those first few forays were… Make them count.