New pup on the block - Introducing your pup to the great outdoors

It’s a big world out there, so making sure your pup is prepared should be your top priority, writes Stephanie Hollebrandse.

By the age of six months, it’s time to introduce your puppy to the big wide world. But before you take those first steps towards public parks and dog friendly beaches, be sure your puppy is protected and ready to socialise.

Vaccinations 101

While there are a number of diseases that are fatal to dogs, we’re lucky to have the ability to prevent many of these by using vaccinations. To provide full immunity, vaccines are issued in a series at the age of 6, 12 and 16 weeks. After these, your pet will require annual boosters.

The shots your puppy needs will depend on both its breed and lifestyle. For example, a hunting dog will need to be protected from diseases transmitted by ticks since they are frequently exposed to environments where ticks can be found. By comparison, a puppy that spends little time outdoors may not. Dr Grant Poolman from Bowral Veterinary Hospital says a puppy owner should discuss exactly what vaccinations are required with their local veterinarian.

“There are a number of variables which must be considered, including the brand of vaccine being used and exactly what you need to protect your pup from,” he says. “It’s usual to protect puppies against distemper, hepatitis and kennel cough. However, there may be local reasons to need protection against other conditions such as leptospirosis.”

It’s also important to note the brand of vaccination being used, as the recommended interval between shots varies with different companies, Dr Poolman says. “It’s wise for a veterinarian to follow the label instructions which accompany the vaccine.” During this time, try to learn how diseases are spread too. “Distemper, hepatitis and parvo virus are spread by contact with the environment where an infected dog has urinated or defecated.

Kennel cough is spread by breathing in droplets coughed out by infected dogs,” says Dr Poolman. Ultimately, being aware of how your puppy is at risk and chatting about it with your vet is the best plan. From there, you’ll be sure your new best friend has everything it needs for its best shot at a long and healthy life.

Out and about

So now the vaccinations are covered, it’s time for you and your puppy to venture outside. But where are the best places to go?

Deciding to take your family pet to the park can be a tricky decision for new owners – there are lots of things to consider. Most importantly, it’s crucial your pup thoroughly understands the ‘come’ command.

Making sure your dog has had at least some experience socialising with other pets is also a good idea. Socialisation from an early age reduces the chance of behavioural problems and is necessary for all dogs.

“Socialisation is so easy and is great fun for pets and people," says Dr Kersti Seksel, a leading veterinary specialist in behavioural medicine. "It is really just taking part in activities that introduce a puppy to a variety of experiences in a positive and safe environment so they can learn how to be a confident and friendly, well-behaved member of society."

Most communities now have designated dog parks – a special, sometimes fenced-off, area for pets to run free and get to know each other. This is also a good way to meet other dog owners and talk about any issues you might be having with the latest addition to the family.

Other communal parks are a great destination and offer your puppy plenty of new sights and sounds to explore. With this in mind, Dr Seksel says it’s important not to force your puppy into a new experience.

“Allow your pup to explore the situation in its own time and use everyday events as a way of socialising it. For example, a daily on-leash walk might be an opportunity to go past a skateboard park, which will help your puppy to see and hear unfamiliar activities while you provide positive support,” says Seksel.

A lot of puppies also love to swim, so checking out a creek, pond or lake in your local area could be fun. Before letting your pup jump in, make sure the water is safe to swim in – blue-green algae poisoning is of particular concern to dog owners. The algae can look like foam or scum on the surface of the water and could be blue, bright green or brown. However, not all algae appears on the surface of the water, and not all forms are toxic.

To be on the safe side, if you are unsure, steer clear. When the algae is toxic, it can kill or make your pet seriously ill within 20 minutes of ingestion, depending on the amount swallowed and the size of dog.

Puppy introductions

The first thing to remember when you’re introducing your puppy to the outside world is that you are responsible for everything it does. It’s likely that your pup will look to you for protection on its first trip to the dog park so be aware that your intervention might be needed.

When bringing two puppies together for the first time, Dr Seksel says it’s best to do it on neutral ground. “Allowing your puppy to sit and observe the action is the most important step. From here, it will decide when it feels comfortable to approach other dogs,” she says. New playmates will often take the time to smell each other – this is normal behaviour and will ultimately make them feel at ease. While this is happening, talk to the puppies in a happy tone of voice and reward them with treats to reinforce the good behaviour.

Throughout this process, each puppy will come to understand that the other is not a threat. It’s also a good idea to use this time to watch your puppy’s body language. Sometimes, it can be a fine line between playing and fighting. “When puppies do a play bow to each other, it usually indicates that whatever happens next is ok, it’s part of the game,” Seksel says.

“Whenever the body language changes, like if the puppy’s ears go back or if it begins cowering, this means the puppy is getting frightened.” At the end of the day, Dr Seksel recommends to err on the side of caution. If you are concerned that your pup is uncomfortable, just stop.

While it’s your job to train your new best friend, it’s also your job to protect it and make it feel welcome in the big wide world. So, take care out there and good luck.