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How much exercise should my puppy have?

23/02/2022 - Puppy Training Advice

As a new puppy owner, there is a LOT to learn. With the huge weight of responsibility for this little life on your shoulders, it can be overwhelming and scary when you start reading a lot of conflicting information about what is best and what is right for your new puppy. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths out there – one common one is the “5-minute rule.”

The 5-minute rule states that a puppy should only exercise for 5 minutes per month of their age – so, for example, a 4-month-old puppy should only exercise for 20 minutes. Though this myth is born from a genuine concern for puppies’ welfare, it can often lead to owners spending months worrying themselves silly over how to stop their energetic puppy from doing too much. It can also often lead to incredibly frustrated puppies, who aren’t being provided with the appropriate level of enrichment and stimulation they really need. For this reason, we wanted to take a moment to dispel this misinformation and reassure new puppy owners!

The rules around limiting puppy exercise are based on the idea that their growth plates are not yet closed. Growth plates are areas of new bone growth, made of cartilage, found in still-growing dogs - these plates “close” when the bone is finished growing. In small breed dogs, growth plates typically close at around 6-8 months while in large or giant breeds they are likely to close at around 14-16 months. It is true that these growth plates are vital in proper development and that damage to the growth plate can cause problems, such as shortening or angulation of the limb. However, damage to growth plates is caused by trauma – this could include landing from a large height, being hit by a car or being crashed into by another dog. There is no evidence to suggest that simple exercise will damage your puppy’s growth plates.

You may also hear people claim that these restrictions are necessary because too much exercise can result in damage to your puppy’s joints. It is true that some forms of exercise can contribute to joint problems – studies have shown that climbing stairs can contribute to hip dysplasia in very young puppies and that jarring, high-impact exercise such as running after a ball or stick can also contribute to joint issues such as osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). Studies also found, however, that genetics and being overweight are two of the biggest risk factors for joint disease. It is therefore important that you seek out a reputable breeder who has carried out appropriate health tests to mitigate the risk of hereditary joint issues, manage your puppy’s diet to ensure they are a healthy weight and avoid high-impact activities such as “fetch.”

When it comes to “normal” exercise, however, there is much less to worry about. Studies into the effect of dogs jogging various distances on treadmills over periods of time showed no evidence of joint damage and even some suggestion that jogging may be beneficial to healthy joints. Both the study observing still-growing dogs who jogged 24 miles a day for 15 weeks and the study observing dogs who jogged almost 2 miles per day, 5 days per week over 10 years – while wearing weighted jackets adding 30% to their body weight – showed no negative impacts on their joints. This shows that low-impact, weight-bearing exercise over the course of a dog’s life is appropriate and does not damage healthy joints.

So, what does the science tell us about how to approach exercising our young dogs?
The biggest risk factors for growth and joint problems are:
  • Hip/Elbow dysplasia
  • Genetic disposition for conditions such as OCD
  • Excess weight
  • High impact exercise such as jumping from heights or sudden turns
  • Trauma from accidents
We certainly aren’t suggesting that new puppy owners should be aiming for an hour of jogging per day from their puppy. Our aim in dispelling this myth, is to allow owners to enjoy their time with their new puppies and to make the most of this influential time in their lives. Running and playing helps puppies to develop their motor skills, build strength and learn to socialise with their human and canine playmates. Going for walks and exploring their neighbourhood is wonderful enrichment, and positive experiences from careful exposure to new things is an important part of our young dogs’ socialisation. 

So, it is wise to avoid letting your puppy jump up and down from heights and best to leave high-impact games like “fetch” until later in life (if ever!). It is also important to ensure our puppies are an appropriate weight and we should make sure they are checked by a vet to confirm they are not suffering with hip/elbow dysplasia or any other joint abnormalities. However, as long as our pups are otherwise healthy, we don’t need to check our watches religiously to make sure we don’t overshoot our walk by 5 minutes a month too soon and we don’t need to panic when our pups would rather run around and play than sit quietly and rest! 
For fun idea and ways to keep puppy minds occupied try one of our puppy and dog training classes based in Ipswich, Martlesham, Colchester, Stowupland and Felixstowe. Book here by choosing a day and time to suit you.

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