Of course, exercise is crucial because it helps the density of your puppy’s bones, general health and prevents behavioral issues like separation anxiety. However, too much exercise can cause severe problems for your puppy later in life and even be dangerous for them in the short term.
So how do you ensure your puppy gets the right amount of exercise?
How much exercise is safe for a puppy?
For structured exercise, a puppy can walk five minutes on a lead for every month of their age, twice a day. This means the average four-month-old puppy can go for a 20-minute walk twice a day.
When determining how much exercise is safe for a puppy, however, one needs to differentiate between structured exercises, like going for a walk or running on a lead, and unstructured activities, such as playing.
Puppy walks should also be a relaxed stroll, where your pup gets to sniff about and take their time. No brisk powerwalks!
This is because most of a puppy’s exercise should come from short bursts of gentle play, where they can rest regularly and take natural breaks.
Aside from the five-minute rule, there are other considerations when it comes to exercising your puppy safely.
Puppy Growth Plates and Exercise
Growth plates are the cartilage at the end of the long bones in a puppy’s legs. As your puppy grows, these plates calcify and become bone. These soft bits of cartilage give the tibias and femurs (long bones) in your puppy’s legs space to expand during the primary growth period of three and nine months.
Most dogs have closed the growth plates by the time they are 1 year old, but in giant breeds, this may only happen between 18 and 20 months of age.
The important thing is that the growth plates close naturally and evenly in all four legs.
Any damage to the cartilage can lead to deformities and musculoskeletal problems later in the dog’s life.
An injury to one growth plate can stop or slow its growth. At the same time, the others develop normally, and this unevenness can create a deformity.
Puppies are particularly prone to this kind of injury during strenuous activity because they lack muscle strength and coordination.
Keep in mind that a puppy that’s neutered before its bones have stopped growing might have the closing of its growth plates delayed by several months. So extra care needs to be taken with neutered and spayed puppies, especially from large breeds.
Breed Size and Shape
As we can see from the growth plates, the size of a breed plays a significant role in how much exercise should be allowed.
Large and giant breeds, in particular, need gentle, non-strenuous exercise, sometimes until 20 months, to ensure their growth plates have time to close.
That includes no jumping or forced running!
But toy breeds should be watched too. Their smaller bones can be just as prone to growth plate issues or stress fractures, not to mention that one step you take can mean seven for them.
When a puppy is born, they are protected by their mother’s antibodies, but these begin to fade at around six weeks. This is why a puppy’s first vaccinations usually occur at this time and then once a month after that for about three months.
The idea is to steadily replace the mom’s antibodies with the puppy’s natural reactions to the vaccinations.
Since this takes time, a puppy’s immune system is not fully formed until they are around five or six months old. Until then, they are always vulnerable to highly contagious “puppy” diseases like Parvo.
Therefore, keep your puppy’s vaccinations up to date and avoid places like dog parks.
But since the critical socialization period for a puppy is between 5 and 16 weeks, when they need to be exposed to as much as possible, one needs to find a balance.
As far as possible, puppies need to be exposed to the outside world, including puppy school, but this should still be done with care to avoid exposure.
Exercise and Environmental Factors
How much and how far your puppy can be walked can be severely impacted by the weather.
While some breeds may be more affected by heat than others, in general, it’s safe to walk your puppy in temperatures up to 68°F (19°C).
Of course, keep an eye on dogs that struggle with heat, like the short-nosed Pug or Boston Terrier.
On the other hand, walks below 30°F (-1°C) need to be taken with extreme caution unless you have a puppy that’s made for the cold, like a Malamute.
Short-haired puppies should be bundled up in cold weather with doggy booties if you can persuade your puppy to wear them.
Also, avoid any snowy roads that have had salt thrown on them. The salt can sting your puppy’s paws and upset their stomach if they then lick it off.
Are You Overwalking Your Puppy?
When walking your puppy, look for the following signs that you may be overdoing it:
Signs of fatigue like falling behind
Stopping or lying down.
You have gone over the recommended time for the age of the puppy on a walk. Even if your puppy doesn’t seem tired, it’s best to exercise them safely through an activity like swimming or a light game of tug, rather than overdoing it on structured exercise.
Signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, such as excessive panting, drooling, dehydration, vomiting, reddened gums, uncoordinated movement, collapsing, or seizures.
If your puppy shows any of these signs, take them to a cool spot to rest and immediately give them water.
If the symptoms aren’t too severe, either carry them home or make the journey back very slowly after resting.
If your puppy appears to have heatstroke, make sure to get to a vet within the hour for treatment.
When Should Puppies Start Exercising?
Puppies will start exercising themselves from the moment you bring them home, usually around eight weeks. Only, this won’t and shouldn’t include structured exercise like going for walks yet.
First, puppies might have brief bursts of play, especially after they have pottied, been fed, or after a nap. During this time, and for most of the first year, play should be their primary form of exercise.
Mental stimulation is just as crucial for your puppy. During this time, they should:
Begin obedience training
Play mental games, such as teaching them to find certain toys or food
Begin to learn impulse control and boundaries
Have regular access to puzzle toys that exercise their brains.
Puppies can regulate themselves when they play. They can flop over, take a breather, or find a quiet place to take a nap.
This is because they do not have the cardiovascular strength for extended periods of exercise, nor do they have the muscles. Naturally, too much stress on their growing bones should be avoided too.
However, at eight weeks, you can put a collar or harness on your pup and begin leading them around the garden to accustom them to the idea of being walked. You can turn this into a fun experience by using treats and praise to lure them.
In general, a short walk of fifteen minutes on the leash is fine for a three-month-old puppy, who by that age should have had their third vaccination.
Avoid busy areas or areas that may have had infected dogs like parks, and simply take a leisurely stroll along your street twice a day.
Give your puppy time to sniff around and rest if they need to.
And here are some puppy exercises to tire out your pup.
How to Exercise a Puppy Before Vaccinations
Suppose your puppy has not yet been vaccinated or has not completed its vaccination cycle. In that case, you may want to avoid leaving your house or yard altogether.
This means mainly relying on play and mental stimulation to keep your puppy active.
Kinds of play can include:
Controlled games of tug (don’t pull or yank too hard in case you damage your pup’s neck)
Your pup does not necessarily have to leave home to contract it. An infected bird can poop in your puppy’s water bowl, or it could be brought in on the tires of a vehicle that drove over the feces of an infected dog.
For this reason, the importance of vaccinating your puppy cannot be overemphasized. And yes, while socialization is essential, minimizing potential exposure should also be kept in mind until their vaccines have been completed.
Also, keep in mind that dogs only start building up antibodies three to five days after being vaccinated.
Is it Bad for Puppies to Run?
Puppies love to run, and in general, they should be allowed to do so, on their own, while playing.
The best place for them to run is in their own yard on soft ground, where they can rest whenever they want. But this does not extend to forced or continuous exercise such as running on a lead.
It’s best to wait for your puppy to be full-grown before you begin any kind of running regime with them.
This is because of the wear and tear running takes on their joints and paw pads and the potential for injury on their growth plates.
Even when grown, you should also consider your pup’s breed before running. Most giant breeds like Neapolitan Mastiffs will never be a good choice for running because of the strain on their hearts and joints.
Short-nosed breeds generally overheat too quickly, and small breeds might simply struggle to go keep up over long distances.
Equally, energetic but muscled breeds such as Pit Bulls can tire out over longer distances because of their excess muscle mass.
But a puppy running about your yard or safe enclosed area is usually fine. In general, keep an eye out for the following:
The ground should not be slippery or hard, as this can increase their risk of hip dysplasia (HD).
There should be no jumping, as in jumping onto something, over it, or off it, or leaping to catch a frisbee, as this is also hard on a growing pup’s joints and can lead to HD.
If you have a hyper-energetic dog, such as a Border Collie, make sure they take time to drink water and take a break, as they may not always know when to stop.
Stages of Puppy Exercise
Remember, exercise is good for your puppy. Still, for the most part, until they are fully grown, it should occur naturally as part of free running, exploring, and playing.
However, you can introduce structured walking on the lead twice a day, ensuring they aren’t showing signs of fatigue.
You can use the table below as a loose guideline for walks, but please always speak to your vet first about any exercise, especially if your puppy is unusual in any way (massive, small, or anything else that might be affected by too much or too little activity)
How far can I walk my puppy table:
30 mins – 1 hr
30 mins x 2 OR 1 hr x 1
1 hr (depending on puppy)
30 mins – 1 hr
30 mins x 2 OR 1 hr x 1
1 hr (depending on puppy)
A puppy’s amount of structured exercise should be regulated according to breed, energy level, and veterinary considerations after a year.
A giant breed should still not be exercised excessively and will not be fully matured until they are three years old. And, small or short-nosed breeds should still be watched for fatigue or overheating.
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