Puppy exercise: how much is too much?

It is increasingly common for new puppy owners to know that they should exercise their puppies sparingly. But is it really that important to avoid strenuous puppy exercise? And just how much exercise is too much?

Puppy exercise: how much is too much? - puppies, dogs - TotallyDogsBlog.com

The question of hip dysplasia

The current position of those advising new puppy owners to restrict exercise quite severely is based mainly on concerns about joint disorders and problems with hip dysplasia.

You can read up on hip dysplasia at the Labrador Site. Still, this is a disorder of the hip joints, believed to be influenced by genetic and environmental factors.  The stresses and strains placed on the vulnerable growing joint by excessive exercise are believed to be a contributing environmental factor in developing inadequate hip joints.

What is the evidence to support this belief?

Hard and fast evidence that a puppy’s hip joints can be damaged by excessive exercise is lacking.   To prove such a theory,  an experiment would need to be set up where two groups of puppies were compared,  and one of those groups would need to be subjected to excessive exercise during the first few months of life. The hips of both groups would need to be prayed before and after the trial, and the results would be compared carefully. A large sample of dogs would need to be studied for the results to be considered relevant.

At the time of writing,  no such study has taken place.

So, how do we know that puppies’ hip joints can be damaged by exercise?

We don’t know for sure.   It seems likely that a puppy that had inherited a tendency for poor hips could have its soft and still forming hip joints made a lot worse through strenuous exercise.   It is also possible that a puppy that has inherited excellent hips will come to no harm whatsoever through a challenging workout. We just don’t know.  The advice you have been given is really a safety precaution,  and it makes sense to pay attention to this advice simply because we do know that ‘playing it safe’  will not harm your puppy.

Playing it safe

A puppy will come to no harm at all from not being taken for long walks. You have no way of knowing what state your puppy’s hips are in until and if they are x-rayed when his growth is complete.   Obviously, if your puppy’s parents had low hip scores, he stands a good chance of having good hips,  but this is not a guarantee.   Puppies with severe hip dysplasia are sometimes produced by dogs with excellent hips.   Even if your puppy has inherited great hips,  you cannot be sure that challenging exercise will not damage them while growing.

Therefore, you may feel that the sensible course for you is to restrict your puppy’s exercise to moderate limits until he has finished growing. But how do we define ‘moderate limits’?

How much exercise should your puppy have each day?

Many breeders suggest the ‘five-minute rule.’ This rule says that a puppy should have no more than five minutes of ‘organized’ exercise daily for every month of his age.  So that would be fifteen minutes a day for a three-month-old puppy, twenty minutes for a four-month-old, and so on. Organized exercise means exercise you control or arrange, such as ‘walks’  or ‘training sessions.’

Puppies under three months old do not need any kind of ‘walks’  at all,  just access to a ‘play area’ outdoors where they can trot about for a few minutes many times daily.

You don’t need to try to prevent puppies from trotting around the house or playing with another dog for a while, given that the puppy is free to stop and rest whenever he wants. Keep an eye on children who may inadvertently exhaust a puppy by encouraging him to play when he needs to sleep.

Try to keep a balance

If you have been to visit a friend with your five-month-old pup and their dog has played for half an hour in the garden with yours,  your dog does not need a walk as well. Walking is only one form of exercise and is no more valuable or important than games or training exercises. It is the total exercise that counts.

Once the pup is over a year old,  provided fitness is built up gradually,  most healthy dogs can be exercised as hard as is appropriate for the breed. Be careful with brachycephalic and achondroplastic breeds of dogs,  and check that your own species does not have any special needs regarding exercise.

Some breeders also prevent dogs from jumping for the first twelve months to reduce impact on the shoulder and elbow joints. This may be especially important for some of the heavier dog breeds and those that are slow to mature.

Could you talk to your vet about exercise at your first appointment with your puppy? Research is ongoing, knowledge increases constantly, and some breeds have special needs. Your vet should be updated with the latest information regarding the optimum exercise for your new puppy.

Jennifer Barker

I'm Jennifer. My passion for dogs lead to this blog's creation in 2014. I share tales of life with my pups and insights on natural dog care so fellow pet parents can nurture the joy and wellbeing of their furry friends.

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