PUPPIES

How Much Exercise Does A Puppy Need: Tips on How to Keep Your Pet Healthy

Puppy exercise and play with ball
John Walton
Written by John Walton

We all know that exercising is a must for humans and pets but do you know how much exercise does a puppy need to meet their health needs? There are a variety of factors to consider when thinking about taking your little pet out for a walk or for their daily exercise. These factors will also be the ones to determine if your puppy is getting a healthy dose of physical activity or not.

Although dogs tend to age faster than humans, it will still be of good sense to remember that dogs are still at their childhood stage on their first to second years of life. Just like in humans, their bodies are still developing and cannot perform sustained and difficult physical activities.

Exercise dog and yourself

Forcing a puppy to do more than his capacity will damage his physical make-up and which can be a problem when he becomes an adult. It is important to remember that unlike adult dogs, puppies have limits when it comes to physical exertion.

Is my dog still a puppy?

The first thing to determine is at the maximum age that you can still call your pet a puppy. There are a few different answers to this question, especially since it would depend upon your dog’s breed and can be particularly difficult to ascertain if they are a mixed breed. Giant breeds take about two years to becomes an adult; large breeds one to two; medium breeds one year; and small or toy breeds about six or nine months.

This would be harder to determine if your pet is a mixed breed so it would be better if you visit your veterinarian to find out.  It would also be good to keep in mind that being a puppy also has varying stages.

Puppy exercise and playing

In the earlier stages, they will need a lot more rest and nap periods so it may not be a good idea to think about giving them a lot of exercise. They need these rest periods to help their bodies develop. As they grow older and bigger, you can engage them in different types of activities that will help them develop their bones and muscles.

What types of exercise are suitable for a puppy?

Even though physical activities or exercises are important in maintaining a healthy puppy, it does not automatically translate that all puppies should have strenuous physical exercise. A puppy’s exercise, according to the renowned veterinarian, Dr. Vivian Carroll, should not be “beyond what the dog would engage in with dogs of the same age.”

The best way to know this would be simply to let them socialize with puppies of the same age and see what they would do. An experienced dog owner knows that puppies usually engage in some form of play and not some routine exercise such as walking for miles or running. They do run for some time but after that, puppies would take a rest or nap.

Puppy exercise slide

If your puppy is old enough, here is a set of ideas on how to exercise a puppy depending on their age. Take note that this is for an average or medium to large-breed size of dog. You may have to make the adjustments for the type of puppy that you have.

  • 0-4 weeks – At this age, it is recommended that puppies should not be subjected to any type of routine or forced exercise. It would be best to leave the puppy alone so he can control his own pace. Usually, a puppy will choose to play around and then stop when he gets tired. This play-and-rest style is very important to protect your puppy from overworking his joints and ligaments.
    Since they muscles are also not yet that developed, they will not be able to withstand prolonged physical exercise. Your puppy will be spending a lot of time sleeping at this age. You will also notice that when you try to walk him farther away from his kennel or from your home, he will resist the pull. This is due to the fact that your puppy is still feeling his way around his territory and taking him away from it will scare and even confuse him.
  • 5-12 weeks – During this period, your puppy will be a lot more active which means they will be sleeping less but they are still not fit for prolonged routine exercise such as walking or running down the block. The best activities at this age would be to play games that you can spend in your own backyard. You can teach them to retrieve items, play tug-of-war, or let him chase you at the yard.
    Keep in mind that they still need some nap or rest so try not to overdo these games. The rule for these physical activities is 5 minutes for each month of age so at this stage they would be from one to three months old. Hence, you can spend from five to 15 minutes of play time with your puppy.
  • 13 weeks – 6 months – At this stage, your puppy will have greater resilience to physical activities and you may mistake this as a sign that your puppy can now do a lot of physical training or exercise.
    But a word of caution here: your puppy’s growth plates and ligaments are still tender and prone to damage so it would be wise if you can let them do their own thing. At six months old, they can now spend a maximum of 30 minutes of either leash walking or even a bit of jogging around the block. You can divide this into two sessions containing 15 minutes each during the morning and the afternoon before they go to bed.
  • 7 – 10 months – Your puppy will now be almost full-grown and they can now engage in longer exercises but the key here is to never engage them in heavy impact activities such as jumping or even climbing up stairs. The growth plates may still be in their developmental stage and engaging them in heavy or exhausting activities can damage their joints. When this happens, the bones will continue to grow longer but the growth plates will stop developing which can lead to a bow-leg or hip dysplasia.
    The best types of activities to engage your puppy in will include swimming as it is a low-impact activity and will do no damage to joints.

Remember to never engage your puppy in a physical activity to the point of exhaustion. Even though they may look to be really in the “game,” they actually have not yet reached their body’s full development. Since a puppy has more calories to expend due to their small size, they will have that energy to perform these tasks without knowing that they physical capacity is still limited.

On the other hand, if your puppy chooses to sit or stop while you are walking them, then you should stop as well. This means that they have reached their limit or are quite scared to venture out: don’t force them to continue. It is their natural developmental instinct in establishing their territory. They may also be needing that break to take a nap.

Puppy and weights

Avoid activities that will provide a heavy impact to their joints such as letting them stand, jump, or even climb stairs. This puts a lot of weight on their hind joints and is considered to be a cause for hip dysplasia.

What are the benefits of a good puppy exercise?

Puppies also need some exercise for their health and well-being but these have to be suitable for their age and condition if you want to derive benefits. Overworking and over-exhaustion is not good for them and the best way to know if they are getting the right activities is by observing their activities with puppies of the same age.

You will notice that they will often engage in a game of chase, running around the yard or play-biting and then take a rest. By doing similar activities, you will be sure that you are providing them with the right type of exercise. So what will your puppy get out of these types of activities?

  • It helps to develop their bones and muscles. – Physical activities help to build up a puppy’s muscle and bone density but the wrong ones can destroy them. It is therefore important not to force them to go beyond their capacity. Your puppy’s bones will ossify or harden once they reach the age of adulthood.
  • It helps to expend their stored up energy and thus prevent destructive activities. – When your puppy has properly expended their energies, they will be calmer and will be able to go to sleep much faster. A puppy that has a lot of stored energy in him will be howling, barking, scratching and annoying their owners during the night. These are also the reasons why puppies tend to destroy things when they are left to themselves at home.
  • It helps to socialize your puppy. – Allowing your puppy to engage with other puppies or meet other people while walking them will help them become friendlier and easier to handle when in public areas. This puts a lot less risk of them being aggressive and of biting other people or dogs that they would meet as they grow older. Dogs which have been kept away from social interaction during their puppyhood are a lot more prone to aggressive behavior when they grow up.
  • It stimulates them mentally. – Walking your dog in newer areas provides them with new stimulus and helps to stimulate their brains. This not only helps to become more “intelligent” in some way, but it also helps to ease their anxiety whenever they are being introduced to newer places. Giving your puppy food puzzles and Kong toys will also help them use their mental analysis which can give them an intellectual exercise.
  • It serves as a way of “bonding” with your dog. – You will get to spend a lot of time establishing that “bond” with your dog while they are still puppies by these exercises. The playtime and walking-around-the-block routine can help establish your relationship with your dog and will help strengthen that identity as time goes on. This is very helpful especially if you need to establish a lot of control in your dog as they grow older. This specifically true for large and giant breeds that will need a lot of owner control when they fully mature.
  • It helps you to get an exercise as well. – One of the best benefits of giving your puppy an exercise is the fact that you get to exercise as well. You may not notice it, but had it not been for your puppy you will surely be at your desk or in your bed, trying to work or read something. Having a puppy to walk around the block or to go swimming with not only makes the activity more fun but it also gives you a good excuse to take that walk when you surely wouldn’t have chosen to do it.

Your puppy needs exercise just as you need an exercise in order to remain healthy. Aside from giving your puppy that needed physical activity in order to avoid getting fat, especially with the types of dog food nowadays, a good puppy exercise will provide you with a lot of other benefits.

Dog puppies walking on treadmill

This includes not only a calmer and happier puppy that is well-behaved, it also means mentally stimulating them and providing them with the needed “bond” with your dog. This way, they will learn to identify who you are to them: their pack leader, their provider, and their loving owner who will be there to take care of them. These early periods are the time to let your puppy know that they are a part of your family.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Daniella Roberts

    Close supervision is still necessary for small puppies, although I believe that all dogs must be supervised, as well. For my part, I make sure that my puppy’s playtime is spaced throughout the day. When the weather’s a tad too hot, I prepare some indoor activities for her to prevent boredom.

    • John Walton

      I could not agree more, Daniella. In any activity, close supervision is important for puppies (and even young adult dogs).

  • Ruth Smith

    We rarely let our pups jump too much or climb up and down the stairs excessively because of fear of permanent damage. The best we can do is let them swim to their heart’s content. It’s a pretty good low-impact exercise that guarantees they won’t have joint problems. We supervise the pups very closely but they really enjoy the swimming times anyway!

    • John Walton

      This prevention is better, Ruth. The problem with letting our puppies to roam freely is the lack of sense of danger and control. Swimming is great, just make sure someone’s looking after them.

  • Lucy Wilde

    Playing with puppies is such a fun thing that we rarely realize that timing must be kept strictly. Our vet really drove this point home, especially when we were educated regarding the growth plates. Apparently, it takes our dogs around 1-1 1/2 years to fully develop their growth plates! This is pretty much what made us cautious and let our puppies just engage in ‘free play.’

    • John Walton

      Free play is alright, but make sure to regulate the duration and frequency to allow time for healing and repair of growing muscles and bones, and to also prevent injury that may be the result of prolonged play time.

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