Puppies LOVE to run and play.
They’re growing both physically and mentally and need to burn off this energy or trying to sleep could be problematic for you both!
But, as much as they like to race around and jump and play, it’s up to you to be mindful of the type of exercise they’re doing and how often.
It’s clear that under-exercising is detrimental to your new pup’s health, but important to note that over-exercising can be too.
How over-exercising can harm your pup’s health
Your pup’s bone, muscle and joints are developing over the first few months, even up to two years in large breeds, and over-exercising can cause growth plate injuries.
Growth plates determine the length and shape of your dog’s bone when fully grown. Once your dog is an adult (anything between 12-24 months depending on the breed) the growth plates become solid bone.
Until then, these growth plates are pretty weak. So any major impact – such as a fall, jumping from height, or fast moving stop/start activities – could affect the way the growth plates develop.
If they close too early because of trauma, the bone won’t have fully developed and could result in shorter limbs or greater susceptibility to sprains and joint injuries in the future.
All this is to explain the importance in keeping an eye on the type of exercise your pup is doing until his bones have fully matured.
So, what type of exercise should your pup do?
In those initial weeks, until they’re fully vaccinated, you’re restricted anyway. This is a good thing as you don’t want to be taking him anywhere he could hurt himself.
You’ll also want to avoid…
- Jumping on/off furniture
- Tug games
… until at least 6 months old. And even then, use your own judgment. Large breeds shouldn’t be jumping on/off anything until at least 12 months old as they mature slower than smaller breeds.
Once he’s been fully vaccinated you’ll be able to do more with him. The key is variety. Repetitive exercises can damage his growth plates as they are continually used in the same way. Keeping things varied avoids this risk and opens him up to many more experiences.
Here are a few very general guidelines and ideas to get your started…
8 – 12 weeks
- Soft toys at home
- Garden time for sniffing and exploring new sights and sounds
- Pop a lead on him and take him around the apartment, house and/or garden so he can get used to walking on a lead which will help hugely when venturing into the big wide world
12 weeks – 6 months (after final vaccines)
- Playtime with other dogs and puppies of similar energy levels
- Self-play and exploration for developing instincts and confidence
- Short walks – around 5 minutes twice per day per month of age
- Swimming – if you can get to some water, swimming is a fantastic low impact, strength-building activity that most pups will LOVE! It also has the added benefit of being an environmental and sensory enrichment tool.
- Introduce stairs by gently helping him walk up and down them – be sure not to encourage jumping up or down them just yet.
Also include some enrichment activities.
Ideally, get as many of these in before the 16-week mark as this is when your pup is at his most open to bonding with other people and animals, as well as to new experiences without a sense of fear.
- Social enrichment
- playdates with other pups and dogs
- introduction to other adults, children and infants
- Environmental enrichment
- get him used to as many sights, smells and noises as possible
- Mental stimulation
- puzzle toys with treats inside
- puppy chew toys
- start basic training – stay, sit, come, leave – to challenge his mind and teach him how to think and problem solve.
6 months – adult (12-18 months)
Mindfully up the exercise and type of activity and remember to include both physical and mental stimulation, as well as obedience training.
When I say mindfully I just mean to always base the activity and its level on the breed and his own desire.
If he’s tired, don’t force him to continue hiking with you. Though equally, don’t give in to his every whim. Like a child, he may decide he doesn’t want to do something just ‘because’. So use your own judgement whilst keeping him safe.
A few things to continue avoiding are jumping, high repetition and start/stop games until he’s fully matured.
How long should you exercise and play with your pup?
Again, it very much depends on your dog’s breed.
For example, brachycephalic dog breeds, like the shih tzu, pug, and bulldog can overheat and have difficulty breathing. So playing for long periods of time outside in summer isn’t such a good idea.
And just because you have a large breed dog like the Great Dane, doesn’t mean you can take him out on a big hike much sooner than a smaller dog. He may be able to keep up but his bones are still growing and the repetition of a long walk could damage that growth.
So consider your dog before following any ‘guidelines’ laid out.
Okay, enough with the warnings, I know you have common sense and will apply it accordingly!
How much exercise?
Rule of thumb: 5 minutes of exercise twice a day per month of age.
For example, if your pup is 3 months old, he can walk for 15 minutes twice a day.
Then playtime is on top of this structured walk. Be that physical play or mental play.
Again base it on your pups age and remember, he’ll need plenty of rest in between activities. So if he’s wants to stop or is looking tired out, encourage him to his crate or bed for some sleep.
Ultimately, a pup needs both physical and mental stimulation to grow into a happy, healthy, well-balanced dog.
Just be careful not to over-do or under-do it!