Exercise is a very important part of a puppy’s life. Without adequate exercise, few puppies will be able to control their energy. Families see an out-of-control puppy and immediately think exercise is the answer to their problem. Often it is, but exercise can also be overdone. There is a balance. Most people don’t know exactly what is an appropriate level of exercise for a Golden Retriever puppy. The information below has exercise guidelines for large breed puppies along with a broad range of various ways for your puppy to get that exercise.
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Off-Leash Strolls – The Best Exercise for a Golden Retriever Puppy
Off-leash strolls are a great way to get exercise for a growing puppy if you have a safe place. Make sure that you have a fenced area or that you are far from any place that cars or other dangers might be. For off-leash strolls, let the puppy set the pace. If he lies down, let him rest. Don’t go so far from home that you’ll have to push your puppy to keep him moving when he’s tired.
Here are a few general guidelines. Keep in mind that puppies that are used to active lifestyles can handle longer excursions. Conversely, puppies that have not had opportunity to exercise off leash need to start off at a slower pace. For your average puppy, 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 plenty of opportunities for your puppy to sniff around.
How to Increase the Distance
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 slow down as needed. The puppy must set the pace. Forced running on a leash is never good for a growing puppy.
Leash Walks as Exercise for a Golden Retriever Puppy
Leash walking can be a good form of exercise when certain criteria are met. First puppies need to be trained and socialized to the environment. Second, leash walks need to be done in a certain way. Finally, leash walks for a young puppy shouldn’t be the puppy’s only form of exercise.
Leash walking can be overdone. 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.
Leash walking provides an excellent way of combining a little bit of physical exercise with mental exercise, obedience training, socialization, and environmental desensitization. It is a fantastic way to introduce a puppy to his world. It gives a bit of exercise while at the same time giving opportunities for socialization and training. However, strolls on a leash are not enough. Puppies must have an opportunity to run and play. Again, off-leash walks are best if your goal in your walk is to provide adequate exercise.
My favorite collars for leash walking are the Country Brook Design Martingale Collar and the Blueberry Pet Martingale Collar. A 10-12 week old Golden Retriever puppy will have a neck that is about 12 inches. Get a collar of any brand that includes 12 inches in the size range. An adult female will have about an 18 inch neck. A male adult will need a collar that fits a 20 inch neck.
Running With a Puppy On Leash Should Be Avoided
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 golden retriever puppy.
Free Play as Exercise for a Golden Retriever Puppy
Free play is always an excellent form of exercise for a golden retriever puppy. Dogs and puppies of all ages can play as long they like in your safely contained yard. If your puppy 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.
Dog Parks and Playing with Friend’s Dogs
If your puppy is on a “play-date” with a dog outside of your family, limit the time to 20 minutes and supervise closely. 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.
I don’t recommend a dog park for puppies unless you are absolutely sure that every single dog that will be interacting with your puppy is friendly and gentle and will provide a good experience for your puppy. I’ve heard too many stories of dogs having one bad experience with a strange dog and then becoming fearful for life. Strange dogs are not worth the risk.
Playing With Your Puppy
Many (in fact most) people don’t have a clue as to how to play with a puppy. Getting on the ground or running around with your puppy can be one of the best ways to exercise your puppy. Fetch and tug can be options if played within certain guidelines. Not only does play with your puppy provide a way to meet your puppy’s exercise needs, play can serve as a bonding experience between you and your puppy.
Whether you are playing tug or fetch or just running around with your puppy, there are a couple of rules that need to be followed. First of all, you need to be the one initiating the game and second of all, you need to teach your puppy an “off switch”.
In other words, if your puppy comes up to you demanding that you play with him in an inappropriate way, don’t oblige him. Instead, ignore him. For instance, if he starts pulling on your pants legs or barking at you, don’t begin the play session. Wait until your puppy is behaving. Then, once you begin playing with your puppy, periodically, stop the game and make him gain control of himself before resuming the game. Ask him to do a simple behavior such as a sit or a down. Then start playing again.
Fetch as a Form of Exercise for A Golden Retriever Puppy
Another popular form of exercise for dogs is the game of fetch. We recommend teaching your puppy the game of fetch at a young age. Going and getting a toy, bringing it back, and giving it to you is easier to teach when they are young. However, fetch shouldn’t be a form of exercise unless several guidelines are followed.
Start With a Toy
When puppies are young, don’t throw balls. Chasing balls causes puppies to twist, roll, jump, and tumble while trying to grab a moving ball. These actions are not good for puppies’ developing joints. Instead, use toys. Then, combine your game of fetch with a game of tug. Tug is discussed in detail in another section. Once your puppy has learned to tug, teach your puppy a release command.
Don’t throw a toy more than 10-15 feet for puppies under 12 weeks of age. Save longer throws for your dog until after he is over 2 years of age.
Teach The Wait Command
Once your puppy has learned to bring a toy back to you reliably, you can begin teaching your puppy to safely retrieve a ball. Before moving from a toy to a ball, teach a wait command. Playing fetch with a dog with a wait command is a tremendous exercise. It not only provides physical exercise, but it also provides a super opportunity for a puppy to learn self-control.Here is how to teach it.
Use a Pull Tab
You’ll need a means of holding your dog back from chasing a ball. I like to use what is called a pull tab. A pull tab is a very short leash that you attach to a collar. Pull tabs are typically 6 inches or shorter. A pull tab is long enough to give you control over your dog, but short enough for the dog to be able to run and play with it dangling from his collar.
Once you have your collar and pull tab on the dog, hold the puppy back with the pull tab and tell him to “wait”. Once the dog relaxes (and I require a sit as well), throw the ball. Repeat the “wait” command if he starts to bolt. Once relaxed again, release the dog with a verbal command such as “okay” and let him go. When the dog is dependable with regard to waiting on the release, you can do away with the tab. Having a dog wait before chasing a ball is a necessity with puppies because it eliminates the problem of the dog twisting, turning, and diving for a moving object. By waiting until the ball has finished rolling, the game moves from being a game of “chase” to a game of “find and retrieve”: a much safer version of fetch for growing puppies’ joints.
Fetch is a great exercise for an adult. Once a dog is over 2, you can begin throwing balls and even add a Chuck-it ball thrower to your game.
Tug as a Form of Exercise for a Golden Retriever Puppy
Tug is a very good exercise for dogs of all ages except for during the stage when puppy teeth are coming out and new adult teeth coming in to replace them. Teach your puppy to play tug early (at 8 weeks) and he can enjoy it until he is about 3 1/2 months. Make sure you stop before he looses his first teeth at around 4 months. Tug can then be resumed when all adult teeth are in.
The most current training recommendations for tug no longer include the idea that the dog can never win and that you must always be in charge. Puppies need to win the “battle” for the toy when they give a good tug at it. If the puppy never wins, he’ll loose his motivation to play the game.
Old fashioned traditional trainers claimed that you must always be the “pack leader” and that letting a dog win a game of tug would make him believe that he was in charge. This is not true.
Consider a child racing his Dad down the street. The Dad lets the child win and the child beams. Does it undermine the Dad’s authority? No. It gives the child confidence and makes him want to be faster and better.
The same holds true with puppies. Let them win when they do a good job!
Once a puppy is tugging vigorously and understands the game, you can teach a release cue. Teach this by making the tug toy become motionless and no fun. There is no need to pry your dog’s mouth open, or yell, or punish. Just keep the toy still until the dog opens his mouth on his own. Then immediately give the toy back to the dog and start the tug game again. Dogs who are conditioned to love to tug don’t enjoy a toy that doesn’t move. Begin integrating the release into your play session in such a way that you are giving the toy back far more often than not. The dog needs to associate his releasing the toy with a restart to the game, not an end to it.
Frisbee is Never a Good Form of Exercise for a Golden Retriever Puppy (or Dog)
Frisbee throwing is also a poor choice for any dog whose growth plates have not closed. It encourages forced running, jumping, and twisting, all bad for the growing puppy. Frisbee throwing can be dangerous for any dog, but especially for a puppy. We personally never play frisbee with our dogs. There are many other better exercise choices.
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.
Puppies Should Avoid Full Flights of Stars
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 that you carry him up them 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 for a Golden Retriever puppy and most dogs enjoy playing fetch in the water. See our website page on teaching a puppy to swim for more information.
Other Activities to Avoid with Your Puppy
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).
Growth Plates and Exercise
We have mentioned quite a few times on this page the importance of limiting certain activities with your puppy until his growth plates are closed. Some of you might be wondering what growth plates are and why they matter with regard to exercise.
What Are Growth Plates?
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.
What Causes Growth Plate Injuries in Puppies?
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 which can subject 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 with healthy bones and joints.
For more information on our puppies, see our page on Golden Retriever puppies.