How to exercise your puppy

Avoid over exercising a puppy

When providing exercise for your puppy it is crucial to take into consideration that their bones, muscles, and joints are still growing and developing. How much and what type of exercise to give your puppy is dependant on their age and breed.

Giant breeds grow for much longer, up to 18 months or more, than miniature breeds which are generally fully grown by 12 months. Many people think that a lot of exercise will tire their puppy making them better behaved. However, the long-term consequences to their health from overdoing it can be serious.

What are growth plates?

Puppies are different to adult dogs in that at the end of their long bones they have what are called growth plates. These contain rapidly dividing cells that allow the bone to grow until they reach puberty.  At that time the bone ends calcify becoming a stable inactive part of the bone. Until the growth plate close they are vulnerable and prone to injury.

The bones are held together by soft tissue consisting of muscles, tendons, and ligaments which in a puppy are much stronger than the growth plates. Therefore excessive stress from bending, twisting or rotating will cause injury and pull apart the growth plate. An injury to the growth plate may not heal in time for the puppy to grow up straight. This can result in misshaped limbs creating an incorrect angle to a joint making them more prone to further injury as an adult. In addition, puppies bones are softer and don’t reach full bone density until they mature.

The best exercise for puppies

Furthermore, puppies don’t have the heart or lung capacity to develop endurance so keeping exercise to a shorter session is best. Try to provide low impact exercise for your puppy.  This may include free play on the nice soft ground or even swimming which is a great low impact and tiring exercise even for adult dogs. Always ensure you put a lifejacket on your puppy and support them in the water.

Avoid strenuous and high impact exercise

Overly strenuous exercise like long walks are not necessary and possibly harmful. Opt instead for playing and exploring in the backyard or local park supervising your puppy the whole time. Other examples of activities that are too strenuous for a puppy and should be avoided include activities like agility obstacles, frisbee or fast-paced walking until they are fully grown.

Even climbing stairs can be harmful to many puppies. Particularly breeds that are prone to back problems and can lead to hip dysplasia later in life. Also avoid activities that involve repetitive motions that can put stress on your puppies bones, joints and muscles. Another thing to be conscious of is making sure your puppy isn’t jumping off things on to a hard surface. This can cause injury to the growth plate and even broken bones.

A puppy of a person I know jumped off a low deck on to the ground and broke one of his front legs. Once he had recovered from surgery he did it again and broke the other front leg. Unfortunately, it is probably going to give him problems as he gets older. As every breed is different it is best to consult with your vet as to what is suitable for your particular puppy. Socialising with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is great to burn some of that puppy energy along with teaching them the social skills they need.

Provide mental stimulation for your puppy

Physical exercise in the right amount has been proven to benefit puppies mentally as it grows the brain and aids to form neuro-connections.Mental exercise like playing games, puzzle toys or learning commands help to burn a good amount of energy also and it is just as important as physical exercise. Fifteen minutes of mental stimulation and exercise will tire a puppy out faster than a much longer period of physical exercise. Read “Mental enrichment and Mind Stimulation” for more on this.

A great game for your puppy is to use treats and a favorite toy and hide it so they can practice their tracking and scenting skills or make a trail of their kibble with lots of change of direction to make it more challenging.

Provide age-appropriate toys

Provide your puppy with lots of age-appropriate safe toys particularly chew toys. Puppies go through the teething stage from between three to six months and chewing will be of benefit. In addition, chewing uses up energy and stress is often held in the jaw so chewing assists in making them calm and releases stress.

Tug of war is not recommended for puppies as it can harm their teeth and even jaw bones. Read “Secrets to maximize the benefit of your dog toys” to learn how using different types of dog toy can provide training opportunities for your puppy.

When to start walking your puppy

As your puppy starts to get older you can take them for short informal walks allowing them to sniff and explore and to get used to being on a leash. The general rule of thumb for the length of these walks is 5 minutes for every month of age ie. up to 20 minutes for a four-month-old puppy.

Monitor your puppy on the walk and end the walk if they show signs of overtiring such as lagging behind, lying down or panting. Puppies under three months probably haven’t had all their vaccinations so shouldn’t be walked in public. Check with your vet when it is alright for them venture out to the park or street.

In Summary

Exercise for puppies needs to be moderate. The growth plate can easily be injured and the bones are much softer than in an adult dog. Avoid activity that is a high impact like jumping down and landing on hard surfaces. Also, avoid any activity that is repetitive in nature or involves a lot of twisting.

Swimming is a good option for low impact exercise. Just ensure you put a lifejacket on them and support them in the water. Providing mental stimulation such as exploring, puzzle type toys and teaching commands can be more tiring for a puppy than physical activity. As puppies don’t naturally have high endurance there is no need for high intensity or long periods of exercise.

If your puppy is showing signs of fatigue while exercising or on casual walks such as lagging behind, lying down or panting end the walk and allow them to rest. If you have any doubts about how much and what exercise is right for your particular puppy, consult your vet.

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