How Much Exercise Should a Puppy Get? (Part 1)

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sallysteve04We had a reader recently ask about how much exercise a puppy should get. This is a great question and certainly worthy of a post or two. Speaking from experience, I wish that I had this knowledge many years ago when raising our Chocolate Labrador, Sally. Sally was an energetic lab (aren’t they all?) and I mistakenly took her running with me starting from about age 4-5 months old. We ran a lot and built up our miles until she was easily doing 6-8 miles, 3-5 times per week. Unfortunately, this amount and type of exercise, at her young age, probably did her more harm than good- she ended up with numerous orthopedic issues although she never had any known bone injuries.

 

A Puppy’s Body is Different than an Adult Dog’s Body

A puppy really does race through their formative years, going from birth to young adult in a blink of an eye, at least compared to a human’s development. The puppy is a calorie burning machine and their body will evolve markedly during the first year to year and one half of their lives. Besides an enhanced metabolism, puppies are different from adult dogs in several ways including:

  • They have less stamina;
  • They have less muscle mass and are anaerobically less efficient;
  • They are far less coordinated;
  • They think they have endless energy; and, most importantly,
  • Their bones need time to develop.

 
exercise for puppy
 

One of the primary reasons that a puppy’s exercise routine should be different from an adult dog’s routine is due to the fact that their bones are not fully developed until they move into adulthood. The growth plates, or physis, of a puppy’s bones will ‘close’ as they age. The growth plates are softer than the bone itself and are located near the ends of the bones. In most cases, the bone growth plates of a puppy will close (i.e., finish forming and calcifying) by the age of 18 months. Some bones in the body will close sooner, within 4-5 months, while some bones will take longer to fully develop. Smaller dogs will see a faster growth plate closure rate than larger dogs.

 

Because the growth plates of a bone are softer than the bone itself, they are susceptible to injury, much like soft tissue (tendons, ligaments) are susceptible to injury. It is for this reason that a puppy’s exercise regimen should be different from an adult’s. Overdoing it or exercising a puppy incorrectly can lead to bone injury that could need surgical repair. Further, overuse or injury could cause the growth plate to close prematurely, which can result in a shortening of the bone and a lopsided and uneven skeletal structure.

 

Most of the longitudinal (length) bone growth in a dog’s body will end between eight months and one year so the most severe injury risk is up until this point in time. A veterinarian can advise a dog parent on when the growth plates are closed through an examination and x-rays.

 

In my next article on this topic, I will provide some examples of the types of exercise that are safe for puppies at different age ranges.

Further Reading

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/pethealth/dog_disorders_and_diseases/bone_joint_and_muscle_disorders_of_dogs/bone_disorders_in_dogs.html

http://vsoak.com/ww2/images/stories/pdf/Orthopedic%20Problems%20in%20the%20Immature%20Dog.pdf

 

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29 Comments

  1. Awesome topic! We always check with our vet before we really let loose with long walks and before starting running. It can do so much damage but that won’t be evident until later in life.
    Emma recently posted…Does Your Dog Need A Dog Chiropractor?My Profile

  2. we got a plan from Easy’s breeder what and how much we should do and what things we should avoid. we followed her plan, including to carry him up and down the stairs for 9 month (till easy’s dad went on strike lol)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog FUNNY FRIDAYMy Profile

  3. Thanks for touching on this. I don’t think most people know about growth plates and that they need to close to hopefully prevent early on damage from too much stress on the joints.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Nellie’s Annual Vet ExamMy Profile

  4. I had never really thought about puppies needing different types of exercise before until we started agility–once we had a younger dog in class and she wasn’t allowed to jump or do the other full-size equipment. Instead, she would run through the stanchions without any jump bars between them and just get used to coming to different sides and being sent away from her handler. It was really interesting to see how agility training can be adapted to fit with the dog’s age.
    Beth recently posted…Why Winter Walking’s WonderfulMy Profile

  5. I found puppies tend to work you out, rather than vice versa! Lots of intense, short bursts of energy followed by comatose like-naps. I found as long as I kept the exercise off-leash and at the pup’s leisure, they’d let me know exactly when they were finished by flopping down and passing out.

  6. It was incredibly difficult for me when Ethel was a young pup; in the knowing that she was to become a competitive Agility dog in the future, I couldn’t wait to start her out in the sport! The wait paid off, however, and we now have a healthy 1 1/2 year old who has slowly begun her Agility career at the right age. Wonderful advice for people who are unsure about exercising their puppies.
    Earl Lover recently posted…Fitness For Friends & Smiles For SugarMy Profile

  7. Terrific perspective, we fur-get our babies are growing and developing even if they are like the Ever-ready Bunny.

  8. That boxer puppy is adorable! I agree with Will and Eko’s point, a puppy is definitely a workout for the owner. You’re always on the move or look out with a little one, a puppy is very comparable to a new baby. Great post.
    Talent Hounds recently posted…Talented Jack Russell Terrier Dock Diving ChampionMy Profile

  9. This is such a great topic. People thought I was crazy for being so protective of Bentley when he was a pup. Basset Hound pups can do permanent damage by jumping from furniture or climbing stairs. Your post will be beneficial to new pet parents. ☺
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Rescue Dogs The MovieMy Profile

  10. Great info! We also were aware of this from agility. We definitely don’t put dogs on full-sized equipment before a year, and longer for larger dogs. There’s so much you can do on the flat when they are younger. It’s so tempting to over-exercise pups because of all their energy. This is such an important topic for long-term health! Look forward to hearing your safe puppy exercises!
    Diane recently posted…The First Time Ever We Saw Sugar’s Smile 🙂My Profile

  11. I was worried that Mr. N’s walks might be too long for the puppy we puppy-sat so I carried him for part of the way.

  12. Really good post!! I never really thought about this too much since Daisy was 2 when we adopted her but with Cocoa I heard that I should wait until she was 1 year old to run with her so we did and then I only did about 2 miles every couple of days to see how she would like it. And now she would run 10 a day and not be tired!!
    Julie recently posted…Perfection!!My Profile

  13. Such a great post – puppies need different play, exercise and sleep methods – just like a human baby! We always use exploration games with puppies too!

  14. Wonderful and great post! My humans wish they would have read this post when I was a puppy! Thank you so much for sharing and have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  15. Super important post – we checked with our vet before adding dog backpacks to our walk and were advised to wait until they were 8 months old. We started out very slowly by just adding 2 or 3 tennis balls and some treats to each pup’s pack. Filled water bottles didn’t come into the picture until about 12 -13 months of age. We also waited with letting the pups jump on/over natural obstacles we would encounter on our walks.
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Best Of K9 Fitness 2015My Profile

  16. This is such great information, because I think it’s natural to assume that a puppy could get as much exercise as it was up to doing!
    Jan K recently posted…Sheba’s Sunday Selfies StoryMy Profile

  17. Honey’s breeder advised us not to do any serious jumping with her until she was at least a year old.

    Because puppies are so energetic, people think they can handle tons of exercise. But in truth, they often need someone to settle them down so they can get the rest they need. Many high energy pups will not rest enough on their own.
    Pamela recently posted…How Do You Know When Your Dog Is Stressed?My Profile

  18. Good information. I am glad you are writing about this because I don’t think the average puppy owner knows this.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…The Battle For The Red BoneMy Profile

  19. Thank you for addressing this! I asked for my friend who has a young Lab (12 wks old now). He’s a very cute little Lab – and it’s tough keeping him from doing too much but my friend is doing his best!
    KB recently posted…Beauty and Smiles!My Profile

  20. Looking forward to your next post. I usually start running with Lab-sized dogs around 10 months old, but slow, short runs. Ace waited until he was 18 months before we did agility as recommended by the instructor.
    Lindsay recently posted…Can You Help? Here Are My 6 Puppy Raising Questions So FarMy Profile

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