Alexandra Fraser discusses the ups and downs of puppy walking, and why you shouldn’t let a small setback throw your confidence.
“I actually write a column on spaniels for Country Life.” I said conversationally as I tugged Wilf away from a Londoner’s completely disinterested Springer after chasing the three of them halfway across Clapham Common. At speed.
I like to think I’m a good dog owner. I’ve done all the reading, all the research. I even write about it occasionally. But there are times where I have doubts.
Take Wilf’s recall. We worked extremely hard on it before he was fully vaccinated, and he was off the lead by the time he was allowed outside. When we introduced the whistle, he took to it like a spaniel in water. He has bad days, but in general he’ll come back when called, even when he’s playing with other dogs.
Then there was last weekend, when my best friend sent me three ‘Fenton’ gifs as I sprinted after a puppy hell-bent on outrunning an older, faster spaniel. Sufficed to say, he will not be off the lead in London again anytime soon.
‘This is the period where we must imprint on our dog the positive exposures and experiences of the world that we expect them to live in when they grow into an adult.’
– Jacob Morgan, founder and trainer at the Yorkshire Canine Academy.
I took Wilf out the day after his Great Adventure. Safely back in Hampshire and away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Smoke, he was good as gold. He dropped his ball on command and returned with every blow of the whistle.
Sometimes I find Wilf’s wilful disobedience frustrating. He’s a smart dog, probably the smartest dog I’ve ever met. He knows when he’s being bad – you can almost see the cogs turning in his little head when he decides to misbehave.
‘Wilf isn’t always a walk in the park. Sometimes he’s a traffic jam on the A4 with no end in sight.’
But other times I remember that he’s just a puppy with an enormous amount of energy to use up and lots of love to give.
Wilf isn’t always a walk in the park. Sometimes he’s a traffic jam on the A4 with no end in sight. Luckily, he’s very cute and I love him more than anything.
Five top tips for surviving the first few weeks of dog walking
Don’t walk your puppy too far too soon. As a rule, you should walk your puppy for five minutes per month of age until they’re fully grown, up to twice a day. Wilf is 5 months old, so the maximum we should be walking him is two 25-minute sessions a day.
Try lots of new places while they’re young. While you’re getting your puppy used to being outside, a straightforward walking route is best. Once they’re confident, try a variety of different walks – by the river, over fields, along a quiet road, in a place with lots of other dogs. Expose them to lots of new situations to help their confidence grow.
Choose a harness over a collar at first. With bigger breeds, a collar can be fine from quite a young age. However, I find with smaller dogs (especially smaller energetic dogs), walking them on just a collar pulls their necks too much. We’ll get a proper lead for Wilf when he’s older and a harness for when we run with him, but for now he’s making his way through Pets at Home’s mesh harness range one size at a time.
Play before walkies! Our friends at the Yorkshire Canine Academy say that playing with your pup before you take them for a walk gets natural endorphins flowing. This helps to build their stamina and let them know that they will have fun.
Do not forget the treats. Treats are an extremely valuable training tool – we reward Wilf every time he responds to the whistle, every few times he retrieves his ball and when he walks at heel. His favourites at the minute are Wainwright’s salmon minis – they’re easy for him to eat quickly and the bags last a long time.
New to The Puppy Diaries? Catch up on Wilf’s exploits here.
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