Exercise Guidelines

Jane Killion who put together the popular DVD set called Puppy Culture has written a pamphlet called “Puppy Fitness that Fits the Puppy”. She starts this pamphlet off by saying, “There’s an idea that’s caught on like wildfire that exercise is some kind of panacea that will solve all behavior problems. Not only is this not true, it’s led to a dangerous trend of owners pushing their puppies to inappropriate levels of exercise.” Many people don’t know what appropriate levels of exercise are. The information below has guidelines for large breed puppies.

Off leash strolls are a great way to get exercise for a growing puppy if you have a safe place. Start off with 10-15 minutes for an 8-week old puppy. Increase to up to 20 minutes for 12-16 week old puppies. By the time your puppy is 6 months, the time can be increased up to as much as 45 minutes and for a 12 month old puppy, you can go for as long as an hour as long as you are going at a slow pace with lots of opportunity for your puppy to piddle around. If you are a very active person and want your puppy to participate with you, increase the distance very slowly, starting with only ¼ mile and adding ¼ mile every other week, going up to 3 miles when your puppy is at least 5 months of age. If you miss a week or two of the work, decrease your distance when starting back and gradually build up the distance again. This long distance exercise must be off-leash so that your puppy can take breaks and piddle around as needed. The puppy must set the pace. Forced running on a leash is never good for a growing puppy.

If you have a sedate lifestyle, your puppy still needs short periods of exercise several times a day at a very minimum. Strolls on a leash are not enough once your puppy is over 12-16 weeks. He must have an opportunity to run and play. Again, off-leash walks are excellent.

Leash walking can also be good exercise if it is done in the right way. One of the biggest causes of growth plate and soft tissue injury in young puppies is repetitive exercise. Leash walks for puppies must be broken up with training sessions or opportunities for free off-leash play or time to sniff around on the leash. 15 minutes should be the maximum for an 8-week old puppy. If your puppy gets tired, flops down, or doesn’t want to go, it’s time to stop. At 3 months, you can go for 20 minutes and at 6 months, you can walk up to 30 minutes. You must be much more careful with leash walking since you and not the puppy control the pace. See our page on leash walking that you can get to through the training FAQ page on the website for more information.

Many people have plans to run with their dog, but running on a leash can be harmful to a puppy’s growing joints, growth plates, and soft tissue. Wait until your puppy’s growth plates have closed, which can be anywhere from 18-24 months. Similarly running on a treadmill or any other types of forced running are not appropriate forms of exercise for a puppy.

Free play is always an excellent form of exercise. Any aged puppy can play as long he likes in your own safely contained yard. If he is playing with another dog in the family, make sure you supervise their play until you are sure that they play well together and that the older dog is not too rough. End the play if the other dog is getting too rough, if your puppy is starting to annoy the other dog, or if your puppy shows signs that he is ready to quit playing when the other dog is not.

If your puppy is on a “play-date” with a dog outside of your family, limit the time to 20 minutes and supervise closely. I don’t recommend a dog park for any aged dog. I’ve heard too many stories of dogs having one bad experience with a strange dog and then becoming fearful for life. Limit your play dates to dogs that you know well and are confident that the experience will be a good one, especially during your puppy’s first year.

Another popular but inappropriate form of exercise for puppies is fetch. We recommend teaching your young puppy the game of fetch at a young age, but it shouldn’t be a form of exercise. Balls should only be rolled for short distances and only at speeds where puppies don’t twist, roll, jump, or tumble to grab the ball while it is moving. Save longer throws for your dog until after he is over 2 years of age. Fetch is great exercise for an adult.

Frisbee throwing is also a poor choice for any dog whose growth plates have not closed. Frisbee throwing encourages forced running, jumping, and twisting, all bad for the growing puppy. Frizbee throwing is not a safe form of exercise for any aged dog, but especially not for a puppy.

Digging is actually a very good exercise for a puppy (though it may not be so good for your lawn!). If you should have a place that your puppy can dig, maybe a soft spot in the corner of your yard, train him that that place (and only that place) is his digging spot.

Your Summer Brook puppy will be trained shortly before changing homes to safely navigate a set of 3 or 4 steps. If your set of steps is more than half a full flight, we require carrying him until he is 4 months old. Even after this, we recommend keeping him off the steps as often as possible. Dogs tend to get excited and fly down them, often leaping over 4 or 5 of them at a time. This can result in injury. As with so many other repetitive or impactful activities, we highly recommend waiting until growth plates are closed. Baby gates can be a huge help until that time.

Swimming is super exercise and most dogs enjoy playing fetch in the water. See our website page on teaching a puppy to swim for more information.

You can play tug with your puppy as long as your puppy is doing the tugging and not you. Hold the toy so that it is low enough for your puppy’s neck to be in a straight line. Hold it still and let the puppy tug against you. Some say that letting a puppy play tug is letting him be dominant. This is not true as long as you teach him to release the toy on command so that you are in control of the game. If you tug while he still has baby teeth, you could cause him to loose teeth prematurely. Make sure you are holding the toy still.

Don’t do anything with your puppy that encourages jumping or fast turning. This includes jumping up on and off of furniture until he is fully grown (and growth plates are closed).

We have mentioned quite a few times in this document the importance of limiting certain activities with your puppy until growth plates are closed. Some of you might be wondering what growth plates are and why they matter with regard to exercise. Growth plates are soft areas that are at the ends of the long bones in puppies. They contain rapidly dividing cells that allow a puppy’s bones to get longer. These growth plates gradually get thinner until they completely close. The closure of growth plates is brought on by hormonal changes during puberty. When growth plates close, they harden as they calcify and the rapid cell division stops. The growth plates become what is called an epiphyseal line. The epiphyseal line is sturdy and not so prone to injury as the growth plates. A dog’s bones are held together with muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These are collectively referred to as soft tissue. In an adult, when there is a soft tissue injury, a sprain will result. However, in a puppy, the soft tissue is stronger than the growth plates. An injury that would only cause a sprain in an adult dog could cause an injury to the growth plate in a puppy. The soft tissue can actually pull the growth plate apart. Growth plate injuries can sometimes not heal properly and keep a dog from growing straight and strong subjecting him to problems for his entire life. In addition to having soft growth plates at the ends of the bones, puppies’ bones themselves are softer before they reach puberty. 50% of all fractures in dogs occur in puppies under 12 months of age.

Although you need to be much more careful with the type of exercise you provide your puppy, exercise is still very important to a growing puppy. Appropriate exercise is key to building strong bones. The right kinds of physical exercise are one key to a puppy’s development. Another key to good puppy development (and a relaxed puppy) is mental exercise. If you will add mental stimulation to a dog’s day, he won’t need as much physical exercise in order to reach the same levels of tiredness.

Give your puppy appropriate physical exercise and give your puppy a long life of healthy bones and joints.