One of the many wonderful aspects of dog ownership is those lovely country strolls with your doggy companion. Many new puppy owners will surely have visions of sunny hikes with their gambolling puppy on their mind as they introduce a new member of the family.
But how long should you actually be exercising your puppy for?
There are pages and pages of advice about this in puppy books and on the internet, which can become very confusing. This blog aims to clear up any confusion and provide some practical advice.
What is the concern with too much exercise?
Puppies are growing rapidly, with their bones, muscles and joints all still developing. Their joints are still very immature, with the growth plates (areas of new bone growth) still active and maturing. Growing bones, muscles and joints are all sensitive, and too much exercise can cause damage. The growth plates are especially prone to wear and tear, with strenuous and high impact exercise both culprits for causing stress to these areas.
Large breed dogs are particularly vulnerable, as they are growing very fast and have more weight on their joints. The ideas of limiting exercise have come about in an effort to protect puppies from early and unnecessary joint diseases such as arthritis.
Is it better to just not walk them until they’re grown?
Not at all! Getting out for walks is vital for puppies, for many reasons. Exercise is necessary to develop strong muscle tone. A lack of exercise can actually be more problematic for developing limbs than too much! Puppies can start to play and exercise as soon as they can walk, but their joints and limbs won’t be mature until they are around 12-18 months of age, dependent on breed.
Development of social skills and normal behaviours is also happening rapidly in puppies and young dogs, and getting out and about is hugely important to prevent behavioural issues. Being cooped up inside also leads to frustration which commonly spells furniture destruction… or worse!
As long as the exercise amount is sensible, walks are definitely a good thing.
So how long CAN I walk them for?
That’s the big money question! There are many suggested regimes out there, which vary widely. There is actually very little true evidence on this subject, with nothing proving that excess exercise is detrimental; however, many owners will understandably want to be cautious.
A very popular suggestion is to allow exercise amounts of five minutes daily or twice daily, per month of age. In other words, at three months old you can walk your puppy for fifteen minutes daily, at five months old for twenty-five minutes, and so on.
This suggestion can be helpful if used as a rough guideline, but it is much more important to consider the type of exercise, as opposed to just measuring the amount of time. In the wild, young wolves and dogs exercise and play naturally as part of their day, with no restrictions placed on them. However, they also take time to rest, which is hugely important.
What are different types of exercise?
Natural play and free-roaming exercise with plenty of time to rest, sniff around and explore are much better than forced activity, and therefore much less emphasis is needed on clock-watching. The ideal outing for a puppy would be an off-lead walk in a secure area, where they are left to explore at their own pace: sometimes running, sometimes walking, sometimes resting. This type of exercise is wonderful for both muscle development and mental stimulation and does not need to be timed, as your puppy will listen to their body and tell you when they are tired – as long as you listen to their body language!
More ‘forced’ exercise, where the owner is walking with their puppy attached to a lead, following a bike or the like, does need to be more time regulated. In these circumstances, the puppy is more likely to ignore their own tiredness in their excitement or desire to keep up with their family. These types of exercise are also more likely to be higher impact for their joints. This higher intensity exercise is less good for puppies and should be avoided or kept to short sessions until their joints are more robust.
How do I keep my puppy from being bored?
Taking your puppy for a walk isn’t the only way to keep them entertained. There are lots of fun ways to keep your puppy stimulated and engaged without stressing their joints.
Play is hugely important to puppies, and doesn’t have to involve running and chasing. Think about tug-of-war games, ‘treasure hunts’ for hidden treats and basic training such as learning to sit or lie down on command. Remember to let your puppy rest when they seem tired.
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule
Taking your puppy out for some fun walks is fine, as long as common sense is applied. As soon as they have finished their vaccination course and are safe to go out, gentle and natural exercise with plenty of time to rest is the best way to keep your pup happy but also healthy. Lace-up your trainers, fill your pockets with tasty puppy treats and get outside!
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