Appropriate Exercise in Puppies

by Dr. Victoria Van Wyk

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There are few things that are as adorable as a puppy. They come in to our lives usually when they are 8 or 10 weeks of age as little bundles of energy. Some seem to sleep a lot the first 2 or 3 weeks after they have come in to our homes but then become energetic. Many of you have heard the saying “a good dog is a tired dog”. Puppies like to chew and can be destructive if left with free rein in our homes. Crate training your puppy can keep the puppy and your home safe.

But puppies need exercise and mental stimulation. Mental stimulation can be achieved by putting their kibble in a kong wobbler toy so they have to push it around for the kibble to come out. They can have kongs stuffed with canned food. They require training for manners such as leash walking, housetraining (bathroom training), coming when called and for tricks like shake a paw, sit, down and so on.

Socializing them to different people (men with beards, kids, people in uniforms) and different places is a definite must. All of these things can help with mentally stimulating the puppy which can help to tire them out. But what about physical exercise? How much exercise is too much? What is the appropriate amount of exercise for a puppy? Why are these questions important?

Puppies have growth plates in their bones. These are areas of growing bone near the ends of the long bones. Each long bone has at least two growth plates: at least one at each end. The long bones grow from these areas. The larger the breed the longer thebone will grow and the longer the growth plate stays “open”. By open we mean that they continue to grow. Once the puppy has finished growing the growth plates “close” and the growing and lengthening of the bone stops. The growth plates of the tibia near the knee (stifle) in a toy breed close at about 10 months of age and in a large breed dog they close at 14 months of age.

In a growing dog an injury to the growth plate can result in abnormal bone growth, bowing or bending of the bone, damage to a joint, and causes pain. Blunt trauma such as a fall or blow to a limb can damage the growth plates and chronic injuries such as overuse can do the same.

These general exercise guidelines should therefore be followed carefully.

Exercise guidelines for puppies:

Puppies less than 6 months of age:

  • all the playing they want but no body-slamming games
  • non-impact training is good: sit, stay, come
  • moderate free exercise such as short walks or short hikes in the woods
  • for agility dogs, no jumping above wrist height
  • no long swimming sessions, no jogging
  • none of the activities that are allowed in the next age groups

Puppies 6 to 14 months of age:

  • all the playing they want but no body-slamming games
  • increasing period of free exercise such as walking and hiking
  • tugging in moderation
  • retrieving on land and in water in moderation
  • for agility dogs, gradually increasing maximum jump height from wrist height to no higher than elbow height
  • none of the activities that are allowed in the next age group

Puppies older than 14 months of age:

  • daily free exercise
  • gradually start with three 20 minute jogs per week
  • for agility dogs, gradually increase jumping height above elbow height to full competition height
  • serious endurance training (long swims, several kilometre jogs) should not start until after 2 years of age