Now that your puppy is home, you’re excited to take them everywhere with you to show them off. We get it. We also wanted to show off our little ones when they came home. But before you do, think about how much exercise is too much (hint: puppies need less exercise than you might think!).
Puppies need a lot less exercise than their adult selves, especially large and giant breeds. It’s important to gradually work up your puppy’s exercise routine as over exercising a puppy can negatively impact their joints and bones because they are still growing. On your first vet visit, you should consult with your vet for any breed specific guidance on the level of exercise for your puppy as they might have specific recommendations given their breed and health status. As a rule of thumb, puppies should exercise 5 minutes per month of age. For example, your 3 month old puppy should exercise 15 min per day.
This is all about your puppy’s growth plates. Growth plates are areas of cartilage tissue at the end of your puppy’s bones that calcify into bone as your puppy grows. Rather than your puppy’s bones growing from their center, the growth happens from the ends by these plates. Since they calcify and harden with age, over exercising your puppy can damage these still soft growth plates before they harden and lead to long term orthopedic conditions. The most common issue is that over exercising will damage cells on one side, while the other side continues to grow normally. As you can imagine this results in a bone deformity, such as bowing of your dog’s leg.
Of course, breed and breed size are important considerations to keep in mind when you’re determining your puppy’s exercise routine. Non-sporting breeds such as a Chow Chow or American Bulldog will require less exercise than a pastoral breed, like an Australian Shepherd. They will have different exercise tolerances as their body compositions have been bred for different levels of activity. Additionally, you should note that breeds have different tolerances for extreme weather conditions. For example, a heavy coat breed or Northern breed, like a Husky, will do well exercising in cold weather, but have a much lower heat tolerance. On the other end of a spectrum, a Chihuahua would not be able to withstand very cold temperatures at all.
Next you should consider your breed’s size, which acts as a proxy for how long it will take for your puppy’s growth plates to close. While most growth plates are closed by the time your dog turns one, it can take 18+ months for some large and giant breeds. You should consult with your vet to get specific guidance for your dog. According to the AKC, to be on the safe side, you should not run or jog with a large breed until they are at least 14 to 18 months of age. See the images below for guidance on when growth plates close for small and large breeds.
Mental stimulation is an often overlooked part of exercising a puppy. All breeds require it! It’s a great way to develop your puppy’s cognitive skills and build up their memory and problem solving skills. Adequate mental stimulation will also help to curve unwanted behavior by entertaining and tiring them out. Easy ways to stimulate your puppy are food based around their meal times. Consider using a puzzle feeder or snuffle mat for kibble. Not only will this be fun for your puppy, but will help them pace their feeding. If you’re looking for activities that are not food based, try a game of hide and seek (you’ll have to be the one hiding every time!) or practice your training. Activities like “drop-it” or “turning around” help with mental stimulation as well. Just make sure you’re not having your puppy jump too much or venture into agility training at an early age. Those movements can have severe effects on their growth plates.
Since they can’t exercise for long periods of time, you should aim to exercise your puppy about twice a day. It’s important to be consistent every day, and not have a lopsided schedule that has your dog very active on weekends and sedentary during the weekdays. A typical daily schedule could be two small walks a day, and a short game of tug-o-war at home. Lastly, make sure not to exercise your puppy on a full stomach as this can lead to bloating.
Over time, your puppy will build up their exercise tolerance and be able to join you on more activities. Until then, keep a close check on their exercise amount to make sure they develop in a healthy manner!