It is critical what we do with our baby dogs. Puppy exercise is so important as young dogs undergo significant physical changes during the first 12-18 months of life before their growth plates close. Some of us get a new puppy and immediately do everything possible with them, as we feel that is the best thing for them. It is, up to a point. We see new puppies running with bigger dogs and enduring body-slamming, older dogs putting them in their place, running till their tongue is elongating, jumping in and out of 4WD or Utes, and being repetitively trained drills, over and over again.
For long-term health in all canine’s, sports dogs and working dogs, it is important to avoid intense activity until the growth plates are closed. It is fairly safe to say that on average, growth plates in a dog have closed by 20 months (Newton & Nunamaker, 1985).
Overuse, or inappropriate use, of a young dog’s body during training or play can create a variety of issues, including injury to their growth plates and can even cause long-term chronic injury to their spine, known as lumbosacral disease.
Over-training, such as long-distance running, is unhealthy for young dogs and the benefits are minimal. Some dogs are driven to exercise and, as owners, we feel we are doing them a service by giving them what they crave. However, a repetitive intense activity can lead to problems like anxiety (Winsley & Matos, 2011). It is important to set appropriate training boundaries for our young canines. So, what is enough?
Appropriate Puppy Exercise 0-6mths
Walking – slow, short walks up to 30 mins, with plenty of opportunities for your puppy to stop, sniff, and noodle around.
Balance work – must always be at ground level and no more than 2 mins per session.
Formal skills training – sit, stay, down, touch – no more than 2 mins per session.
Free play – no more than 10 mins; discourage rough play, such as body slamming.
Chasing objects – roll balls and drag toys along the ground.
Tugging – do not pull against the dog – hold the toy and let the puppy pull against you; keep the toy low, to maintain the puppy’s neck in a straight line with its back.
Avoid – direct running, jumping, indoor/outdoor stairs, fast turns, sudden stops, weaves or lure coursing.
Young puppies, up to six months, should not be exercised with the intent to increase strength or endurance. These puppies should be allowed to play naturally, i.e. self-directed play.
Jumping is often encouraged, with little understanding of the damage it can cause in young puppies. Jumping down from high furniture, beds, decking, vehicles and the like is when most spinal fractures occur. Do not allow your puppy up on high objects without good supervision and assist them when getting down.
Appropriate Puppy Exercise 6-18mths
Walking – gradually increase up to 60 mins, maintaining plenty of opportunities for your puppy to stop, sniff, and noodle around. Be guided by your puppy – if they stop or show reluctance to continue, cease walking them. Walking on pavements should be minimal; dirt or turf is ideal. Now is the time to introduce hiking, beach, paddock walking.
Balance work – introducing an incline and sidestepping; no more than 5 mins per session.
Formal skills training – sit, stay, down, touch, work, sport – gradually increase duration and distance, up to 20 mins per session.
Free play – no more than 20 mins; discourage rough play, such as body slamming.
Chasing objects – continue to roll balls and drag toys along the ground.
Tugging – do not pull against the dog – still hold the toy and let the puppy pull against you; keep the toy low, to maintain the puppy’s neck in a straight line with its back.
Strength – roll over, running up hills, begging no more than twice per week in 5-10 min sessions.
Swimming – puppies volunteering to swim should be allowed to do so, but ensure it is limited to just a few minutes at a time, such as retrieving toys from shallow water.
Jumping – must be closely supervised and at a height no more than half-way to the puppy’s elbow height. Be vigilant that your puppy is supervised on high furniture and objects at all times.
Avoid – direct running, indoor stairs, fast turns, sudden stops, weaves or lure coursing. High impact and endurance training should be delayed until the growth plates are fully closed. This occurs around 18 months; longer if the dog has been spayed.
Appropriate Puppy Exercise 18-24mths
Although your puppy is now approaching maturity, it is important to understand that their muscles, ligaments and tendons are still developing, so the frequency, duration and intensity of exercise should be gradually increased. Your puppy can do most activities now in moderation, with high intensity, but for short durations.
Walking – be guided by you and your dog, by increasing walking gradually. If your dog appears tired or no longer interested, then it is time to stop.
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