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Many first time dog owners are surprised to hear that it’s even possible to exercise a puppy too much. If you spend even a few minutes with a 4-month-old puppy it can seem like they’re downright indestructible and if they aren’t playing then they’re probably napping.
Too much exercise isn’t an issue of getting tired instead, the concern comes to promoting healthy growth and avoiding injury. The tricky part is that it’s difficult to really say exactly what is too much exercise for a puppy and there’s no hard and fast rule since there’s so much variation between breeds.
But to get you on the right track, I’ll quickly break down some of the big factors to consider, and how to manage them, when it comes to puppy exercise.
Remember That Puppies Are Still Growing!
Puppies have growth plates, which are primarily made of cartilage, at the end of long bones that need time to solidify. Eventually, these growth plates will close and become dense bones but this takes time. While it varies by breed, this process is usually complete by the time a puppy is around 18 months.
Too much exercise during this time can cause lifelong problems for puppies as injury can lead to uneven or abnormal growth.
As a general rule, limit forced exercise for puppies under 18 months to under 10 minutes. Forced exercise means things like running or long hikes without an option to stop. That doesn’t mean puppies can’t exercise for longer than that but they should be able to take breaks.
Allows Pups To Self-Regulate Their Exercise And Don’t Be Afraid To Mix Things Up
There’s a big difference between hiking a 6-mile loop on a trail and having a long play session in the backyard.
In the backyard, puppies can lay down when they get tired or let you know they’re ready to go inside by walking to the door. Puppies can self-regulate in the backyard and give you a good idea of their exercise tolerance.
But on a 6-mile hike, there’s a lot more pressure on puppies to keep going and finish the hike. Since there’s a specific destination in mind, puppies don’t have the same opportunity to self regulate their own exercise.
So a good rule of thumb here is to focus on exercise opportunities where puppies can self-regulate their own exercise. These types of activities give puppies a chance to get plenty of exercise while taking breaks (or just taking a nap) on their terms.
Focusing on hard runs or long hikes will make sure your puppy sleeps well but it could also add additional wear and tear on their joints.
This is especially important for large breed dogs that are already prone to hip dysplasia and other orthopedic disease. Swimming is a great way to keep up the exercise routine without too much impact.
As a general guideline, make sure you have a variety of exercise options for your puppy with a varied level of impact on their joints.
Puppies Are Still Learning Basic Motor Skills
Puppies are still working on basic motor skills as they learn how to move their rapidly growing bodies. Don’t give them too much too soon and instead focus on simple movements that slowly increase in difficulty over time.
Puppies are certainly not ready for a full blown agility course. Not only do they not have the motor skills for it but their growth plates aren’t fully closed and they’re still too prone to injury. Instead, consider introducing basic movements on a flat surface.
Things like running around poles or walking over low bars make great options for not only exercise but also building up motor skills.
Be Patient With Your Puppy!
Puppies are enthusiastic and eager to please but they’re still growing and learning.
It’s important for you to be patient with your young puppy and give them time to safely build up endurance and learn how to safely exercise!