You’re getting your new puppy accustomed to his collar and leash; you're excited about taking him on walks with you. As a caring owner, you know the importance of early training and exercise, especially if he is an energetic breed. You know your walks will be an important part of your bonding, and you look forward to his company. But when is it safe to hit the road?
Before you start walking your puppy around the block or taking him to the dog park, make sure he has had 3 to 4 full sets of puppy vaccines, including for rabies. On average, this will be completed between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Walking your puppy in areas frequented by other dogs can expose him to some viruses and parasites that are potentially fatal, including parvo. Although protocols vary, a puppy is usually fully vaccinated against a variety of serious diseases by 20 weeks. Once puppy is vaccinated, start by going on short walks and try to avoid rough or hot pavement. The pads of his feet are tender.
Between the ages of 5 and 18 months, certain breeds can develop what is commonly known as growing pains, or Panosteitis. Rapidly growing large or giant breed puppies such as Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes tend to be the most prone. This condition causes bone pain, and sudden lameness in one or both front limbs is the most common symptom. Watch for signs of limping, and see your veterinarian if it persists. Although your puppy will typically grow out of this condition, exercise restrictions and pain management are occasionally recommended. Consult with your vet about safe distances to walk with your puppy, regardless of his breed. This will help avoid bone or joint damage as he grows.
Regardless of your puppy’s age, never walk him in the midday heat during the summer months, especially in the lower southern states where the humidity runs high. Although all breeds are at risk for overheating, breeds with compressed faces such as Pugs and English Bulldogs have naturally impaired air-flow and are susceptible to life-threatening heat stroke. Always watch for signs of overheating, including a belled-out tongue and over panting, take along plenty of water and pick a nice place in the shade to rest.
If your puppy isn’t old enough to be fully vaccinated, start training him to walk with you around your yard. You can get him used to a collar, leash or harness early. If you live in an apartment complex with a large dog population, ask your veterinarian about the exposure risk. If the heat is too high, your puppy, especially if he's a water-loving breed, might enjoy playing in a baby pool, and you can play with your puppy indoors. If you find yourself winding down before he does, an ice-cube on a linoleum floor can be a great source of entertainment while you take a break.