How far should you walk a puppy? A vet's guide to puppy walks by age
Written by Dr Ben Simpson-Vernon
15th Jun 2023
6 mins read
Most of us can’t wait to take our pup’s out for their first walk. But, it’s important to protect your pup’s health while their immune system is developing. So carry them around outside, and wait until after vaccinations to go for walkies. Ben the Vet (Yep, the one on TikTok!) shares advice on how far you should walk a puppy, and why it’s important to moderate your pup’s exercise.
Modern living means many of us spend our days sat in front of computer screens indoors in our homes and offices. One of the many fantastic benefits of dog ownership is that it encourages us to get outside into the fresh air, exploring green spaces and being more active. This can have a positive knock-on effect on our own physical and mental health.
Welcoming a new dog into the family is an exciting time, and new puppy owners I meet are always chomping at the bit to get out and start walking their new four-legged friend.
One question I am often asked by them is how long should you walk a puppy, and how much exercise is okay for them to do? A lot of factors need to be considered, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.
When can you take a puppy for a walk?
Short answer: You can take your puppy for a walk when they’refully vaccinated
Like a human baby, a puppy’s immune system is immature and so they are more vulnerable to infections than adult dogs. It’s therefore strongly advised to delay walking your puppy until, depending on the vaccine that has been used, 1 to 2 weeks after they have completed their course of injections. At this point, adequate immunity should have developed.
Can I take my puppy outside before their vaccinations?
Until this point, your puppy can be exercised in a garden. However, if you do get foxes in your garden, be sure to check for any fox poo and clear it up, because this can pose an infection risk to your pup.
The period between 3 and 14 weeks or age is known as the socialisation window, and is a time that’s critical in your dog’s social development. During this time it is very important your dog is exposed to different people and children, as well as other dogs, and everyday sounds and surroundings.
Whilst you should not walk your puppy on the ground in public areas where other dogs will have been until they’re vaccinated, you can still also carry them outside to expose them to different stimuli in the outside world. It’s also generally considered low risk to allow your puppy to meet a small number of fully vaccinated dogs in this period, and it’s an important thing for their social development.
How often should I walk my puppy?
The general advice would to walk your puppy twice daily. In the first few months with your new pup, they’re typically active and playful in short bursts, and then sleep on and off throughout the day. So two shorter walks are generally better for them than one longer one.
How long should you walk a puppy?
Common advice given is that a dog can be walked an extra 5 minutes per walk, for every month of their age. So a 3-month-old puppy can be walked for 15 minutes at a time. Check the list below for a full breakdown of how long a puppy should walk depending on their age.
I must note, this rule isn’t based on any specific scientific evidence, and it’s just a rough sensible guide. So don’t get too bogged down on strictly following it at all times, just use common sense. If the weather is lovely and you want to take your 12-week-old puppy for a slightly longer walk at a weekend, and they’re not too tired, that’s fine! But continuously retrieving a ball thrown using a ball slinger for hours every day is definitely too much for a 12-week-old puppy.
How should you walk a puppy by age (a very rough guide)
How far can an 8 week old puppy walk?
Up to 10 minutes per walk. 1 or 2 walks per day.
How far can a 12 week old puppy walk?
Up to 15 minutes per walk. 1 or 2 walks per day.
How far can a 4 month old puppy walk?
Up to 20 minutes per walk. 1 or 2 walks per day.
How far can I walk my puppy at 5 months?
Up to 25 minutes per walk. 1 or 2 walks per day.
How far can I walk my puppy at 6 months?
Up to 30 minutes per walk. 1 or 2 walks per day.
Can you over walk a puppy?
Yes, you can over walk a puppy. Sustained over-exercise can put a lot of strain on a puppy’s developing bones, muscles, and ligaments. This can increase the risk of some developmental orthopaedic problems, including hip and elbow dysplasia.
These conditions can cause joint pain and lameness in young dogs, and can be tricky to treat. In more severe cases, surgery is needed. And dogs affected by these problems are more prone to developing arthritis at a young age.
Looking after a new puppy can be a tiring time, and I often hear owners say they want to “wear out” their dog by taking them on a long walk. But be cautious . Your 20 week old dog may be able to keep up with you on a 5 mile run, but typically doesn’t know when to stop! High impact exercise like running at pace next to a bike, or chasing a ball back and forth for extended periods of time, or jumping repeatedly, are most likely to put strain on your puppy’s joints and should be generally avoided until they’re bigger.
Take cues from them. If they are playing in the garden and start to look tired, make them take a break for 5 or 10 minutes.
It should also be highlighted that you can also under walk a puppy! Being chronically under stimulated makes for a frustrated puppy, and this can have long term behavioural consequences. So try to strike the right balance.
Remember, you can also keep your pup occupied (and tire them out!) with mental stimulation. Puzzle feeders are great for this!
Why can’t you walk your puppy far?
You can’t walk a puppy too far because, during puppyhood, their bones are continuously growing from cartilage in growth plates. These are located at either end of the long bones in the limbs. These growth plates are weak points in the bone and can be easily damaged by trauma. This can interfere with normal bone growth and have long term consequences for the dog.
Large and giant breed dogs are at higher risk of developmental orthopaedic problems. So you should be extra careful to avoid them from overdoing it when playing or exercising.
When can your puppy walk as far as you like?
Your puppy can walk as far as you like (or they like!) when they have reached skeletal maturity. That basically means when they have stopped growing. This varies by breed. A small or medium sized breed dog will be fully grown at 12 months, whereas large and giant breeds take 18 months to 2 years to reach adult size. Once they reach maturity, their growth plates fuse and exercise no longer needs to be restricted in most dogs.
Warm weather is the exception though. Dogs don’t succumb to heat stroke exclusively in hot cars. It can easily happen on a hot day if a dog overdoes it with exercise. Be especially cautious if your dog has a thick coat, or is a flat-faced or brachycephalic breed, as they’re less able to cool themselves down by panting and are at higher risk of heat stroke.