Puppies and Exercise – Not So Much

You just got a new puppy. You know the basics of dog ownership: someplace to sleep, food, training, and exercise and play. But a puppy is not an adult dog, he is still growing physically and still learning mentally. You need to approach each of these areas differently than you would an older dog.

When I see an enthusiastic new dog owner walking a puppy, I mean a little puppy not an almost-year-old-dog, I want to applaud the owner’s commitment but tell hi–scale it back just a notch for a minute. How much exercise and what kind to puppies really need? All dogs need some movement, but for a puppy, just some playtime with you in the living room will suffice. (Not only is this enough exercise, this is crucial bonding activity to create a connection with the dog, make him feel secure, and establish your dominance.)

Good puppy play can be anything unstructured and not too strenuous: chasing, running, playing with dog toys, tugging. For training purposes, you don’t want to encourage biting or gnawing and maybe even start using a command for when playtime is over so he will start to know the difference. Playing with other dogs that are in the house is good for him too, but just watch if you have older dogs. A puppy playing with an adult dog can tend to play hard to keep up, and will be more prone to injuries.

Overdoing it with your puppy can lead to problems later. Things like rough play and jumping is a bad idea for a young pup. A puppy’s bones are soft and spongy. They don’t completely harden until the puppy is 18 months to 2 year depending on your dog’s breed. High jumps, jumping over large objects and jumping out of things like porches or trucks should be discouraged. The stress soft bones, underdeveloped muscles and immature ligaments can create damage–maybe life-long issues. More than a casual walk is not good for a young puppy either. Besides the issue of her still-developing bones, a puppy’s body is not good at controlling its body temperature, making her more prone to heat stroke. Running, jogging, rollerblading, and biking with you dog should be saved for later. As your puppy grows, more intensive or longer workouts are fine.

Here are some guidelines on appropriate physical activity for your puppy:

6 Weeks to 4 Months

  • Short walks on soft terrain
  • Playing with soft toys in a contained area, such as a fenced yard
  • Swimming in warmer water for short periods

4 to 8 Months

  • Longer walks on soft terrain
  • Playing with soft toys
  • Swimming and playing with toys in the water

8 to 12 Months

  • Faster and/or longer walks on soft terrain
  • Playing with soft toys
  • Swimming and playing with toys in the water for longer periods

12 Months and Up

  • Walks on terrain that has been checked for hazards such as unseen glass, holes, ditches, wires, stakes, and metal fragments
  • Jogging with you (begin with short distances on softer terrain until endurance is built up)
  • Playing with appropriate toys
  • Swimming and playing with toys in the water

Remember, generally, you know any exercise is enough for your dog when he or she is laid out at the end of the day. A tired dog is a happy dog.

3 Comments on Puppies and Exercise – Not So Much

  1. The new book, Fit As Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health, provides funa nd practical tips for getting fit with your dog.

  2. Paul Greve // August 22, 2012 at 1:45 am //

    My husband just ran 8 miles with our 8 month old puppy. When I told him this is not good for her …he does not believe it. Can you send him your recommendations?

  3. Hi, it’s not just my recommendation, but many, many vets. Exercise is good for a puppy, 8 miles is excessive. If you run a 8 minute mile (a great pace), that a run that’s over an hour of full-on running. Kudos to you for your endurance. Let me lay out some points why this is not great for a puppy.

    In many breeds, a 6-month old puppy will look grown or close to it, but they still are puppies and their bodies have not finished developing yet.

    The growth plates in a puppy’s long bones (the femur [thigh] and the humerus [forelimb]) do not close or ‘harden ‘until the puppy is anywhere from 12 months to 18 months (for larger breeds). They are still lengthening and hardening until then. The bones can stand some stress, but bent or stretched too far, and the bones can be damaged.

    If a puppy is doing more jumping and running than healthy, the puppy is more at risk of fracture, especially if inexperienced legs and paws don’t land on the ground correctly. Too much activity could possibly preventing the growth plates for forming fully.

    The joints are still developing in a puppy. These joints contain soft tissue that cushion between the bones as well as ligaments and tendons that attach muscle to bone. Muscles are still developing–these help stabilize bones and joints to work together. Muscles that are not yet strong are not great at supporting those joints yet, and making the dog do more than her muscles are ready for can be a recipe for a life long injury. The same strong muscles that hold a joint in place properly as an adult dog jumps over a curb, may not be strong enough in a puppy. Puppy wobbles, joints slide in an unnatural way, then sprains, tears, fractures and other injuries occur. Injuries that go unnoticed or unattended can affect the dog for the rest of the dog’s life.

    If a puppy is jumping and excessive running (long distance, uneven ground) than healthy, they can be doing damage to their joints and preventing the growth plates for forming fully.

    Excessive exercise can not only cause physical stress but mental stress also if it is too much for your dog. Furthermore, many dogs and dog breeds don’t know when they’ve hit “too much”, they keep going until they are sick.

    You didn’t say your dog’s breed. Certain conditions such as luxating patella can be encouraged by overexercising a puppy.

    You can keep your puppy fit and engaged with short exercise sessions, but do them often! You do have to look at your pup’s size, breed and energy level when figuring out appropriate exercise. Without know more about your dog, I would recommend doing 1/2 as much exercise as recommended for that breed. Less exercise for larger breeds. High energy puppies can be exercised and worn out without high stress activities that included running for long stretches (over 20 minutes) or jumping. This is time well spend on TRAINING your dog, which is largely low impact, involves activity and your precious attention, and will exercise they minds and help to wear them out.

    Why risk injury or overexertion and poor development now? You and your dog will have to live with it for a lifetime. Please!! wait until the puppy is at least a year old for those awesome long runs.

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