How to exercise your puppy

How much exercise does a puppy need

Beagle puppyThe quantity of exercise a puppy requires depends upon their age and breed. A very young puppy will not have the endurance for too much exercise. As they get older you can increase the amount of physical activity and exercise little by little.

The amount of exercise a puppy will need is also dependant upon their breed. You need to be aware of how much your particular breed of dog will need once they are an adult. This will give you a point of reference for the exercise needs of your puppy. For a guide to how much exercise your dog’s breed will need as an adult see here.

It is also important not to underestimate the importance and value of mental exercise and enrichment for your puppy. Mental stimulation can tire a puppy or dog just as much as physical exercise. A tired mind results in a tired puppy. See ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your puppy here.

Can you over-exercise a puppy

Yes, you can overdo it when exercising your puppy. This is also true of even an adult dog. When providing exercise for your puppy it is crucial to take into consideration that their bones, muscles, and joints are still growing and developing. The main concern when exercising a puppy is to avoid doing damage or causing injury to their growth plates. For more about what growth plates are see below.

What are growth plates?

Puppies are different from 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.

puppyThe 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, a puppy’s bones are softer and don’t reach full bone density until they mature.

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. It is about getting the balance right.

To give a comparison to a child’s growth plates, a girl’s growth plates close between 13 to 15 years of age and a boy’s growth plates close between 15 to 17 years of age. Children run, play, and even play sports. Puppies are more durable than you think. However, it is important to avoid repetitive high impact activity or jumping off things on to hard surfaces. If you have any concerns that your puppy may have injured their growth plates or tendons consult your vet.

The best exercise for puppies

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.

Provide mental stimulation for your puppy

staffy puppyMental exercise has been proven to benefit puppies mentally as it grows the brain and aids to form neuro-connections. Mental exercises 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 stimulation and enrichment to tire a puppy” 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 jawbones. Read “Secrets to maximize the benefit of your dog toys” to learn how using different types of dog toys can provide training opportunities for your puppy.

Check out the range of age-appropriate toys for puppies on Amazon.

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 to venture out to the park or street.

Avoid strenuous and high impact exercise

Overly strenuous exercise like long walks is 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 stair exercise can lead to hip dysplasia later in life. Also avoid activities that involve repetitive motions that can put stress on your puppy’s 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 the 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. Socializing 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.

Puppy exercise at 3 to 7 weeks of age

This age period is known as the Early Sensitive Period. A puppy should still be with their litter unless for some reason they are needing to be handed raised. At this age, a puppy is learning how to play with other puppies in their litter and humans, and about the world in general. It is a good idea to play on a variety of surfaces such as carpet and tile, uneven surfaces and outside. Actual exercise sessions are not required at this stage.

Puppy exercise at 8, 9, 10, 11 weeks 3 months and 4 months of age.

At 8 to 16 weeks of age, a puppy is in what is known as the Late Sensitive Period. Until they are around 12 weeks of age they are probably not fully vaccinated so you shouldn’t take them off your property. However, you can get them accustomed to being on a leash with walks around the home and yard. Play with toys and mental stimulation is also recommended to aid in their development. Once they are fully vaccinated you can start taking them for walks using the 5-minute rule as a guide (5 minutes to every month of age).

Puppy exercise at 4, 5, 6 months of age

This is known as the Juvenile stage. Exercise can include appropriate length walks or wading or swim in the water, play with age-appropriate puppy toys, and play with other puppies, friendly adult dogs and people. You can also use low obstacles such as walking along a plank laying on the ground and even stairs if that is appropriate for their breed. Remember, stair exercise is not suitable for all breeds. It is a good idea to provide chew toys as they will be teething in this period.

Puppy exercise from 6 months of age to growth plate closure.

This stage is known as Adolescence. The age a puppy’s growth plates have completely closed will depend on the breed. For a small breed puppy, it will be around 12 months of age. For a giant breed, it will be 18 months of age or older. At this stage, exercise can include similar activities to what an adult dog of their breed would do. See here for a guide to exercise by breed. It is still important to avoid high impact repetitive activities or overdoing it. Jumping exercise should be kept to lower highs, no higher than elbow height.

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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