Considerations when exercising your puppy
Puppies are so cute but can also be hard work. There is all the training of basic manners and obedience and then some are destructive with chewing but with only 5 minutes of daily exercise advised per month of age what should and shouldn't you do with them? There are many considerations to make as all are individuals and there will be variations due to breed and personality but in general we need to consider the forces put on their body to prevent injury. Due to growth puppies are at risk of different injuries to mature dogs. Until their growth plates have closed there is a weakness at the end of bones where the growth occurs. Growth plates close at different ages depending on size and type of dog as well as the different positions in the body. It is worth considering though that they may not all close until 18 months of age. Injuries to growth plates can be significant and irreversible. You can not see all growth plates from the outside but the most obvious ones are just above the carpus joint, or wrist. If your puppy has growth bumps here then it is showing they are active and inflamed so it is advisable to reduce the pups exercise until they have settled. The picture below shows a big collie puppy with active swollen growth plates. It is worth noting that dogs do not necessarily show lameness with these problems and you should reduce exercise before lameness is present otherwise you may be too late.
Due to bone density puppies are also more prone to spiral fractures than adult dogs so exercise where there is unnecessary twisting and turning should be avoided until about a year.
Hip dysplasia used to be put down to genetics but more recent studies show other factors are just as likely to be the cause. Slippery floors can be an issue as can the puppy's weight so do not over feed them or allow them to run around on tiles or lino.
Over exercise to tire out the boisterous puppy could create a rod for your own back. Just because a puppy can run for longer doesn't mean that it should. The dog will get physically fitter and fitter and may just learn to run on adrenalin. Use brain training exercises to wear them out as well as play or you may increase the risk of creating a stressed dog that can never relax in later life. Teaching a dog to relax can be a very worth while exercise at this stage in life.
It is sometimes easier to let other dogs tire your puppy out for you through play but be cautious of this. Some adult dogs are really careful around puppys but one swipe of a paw onto a small puppy's back can damage the pup for life
This is beginning to make exercise sound a really bad idea for all puppys where as appropriate exercise will actually strengthen the body.
So what exercise is safe to do?
A variety is best. As with older dogs vary intensity and duration but try and stick to the rough guide of 5 minutes per month of age for daily activity. This means that a 6 month old puppy could be exercised for 30 minutes on a walk and that they should be a year before going for an hours walk. This does not mean that they can not do anything for the rest of the day they can still do short bouts of mental training which for most dogs is just as tiring. Good exercises to teach during this time are the basic sit, down and a recall but why not also teach them to stand still and be handled. This will always be of use if they need to see a vet or physical therapist later in life. You may also expose your puppy to lots of different environments such as woods, beaches, towns, fields. They will use different parts of their body's on different surfaces and so balance and proprioception can be improved in this way. Teach your puppy to walk on a lead with out pulling so they do not damage their neck. Teach them self control games around food. There are also lots of tricks that can be taught but again their body needs to be strong enough to do them.
Most importantly enjoy your puppy and exercise with the long term goal of a healthy injury free future.