How Much Exercise Does A Puppy Need? We Explain
One of the greatest joys of owning a dog is exploring the great outdoors together. But don’t expect your new puppy to be your faithful sidekick in long adventures right from the start. Your new addition to the family is only a baby and can’t keep up with your physical abilities just yet.
But how much exercise does a puppy need? In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know to understand your pooch’s physical needs.
Why Does The Amount Of Exercise Matter?
Puppies seem to grow at the speed of light. One day, they’re balls of fluff, the next day they’re already reaching their full size. Exactly how fast they grow differs between breeds, but in most cases, they’re considered adults as soon as they’re one year old.
During this fast-growing period, puppies are at a higher risk of injuries, which could potentially cause permanent damage to their joints and bones. This is why it’s important for puppies to get the right amount of exercise.
They should have enough physical activity to get tired and enjoy healthy sleep, but again, not too much as too much vigorous activity can hurt them.
Dangers of Over-Exercising
As mentioned, the main problem that too much exercise can cause is an injury to the fast-growing bones of puppies. This is mainly thanks to the growth plates. Growth plates are soft areas at the end of the long bones made of cartilage tissue (1). As the puppy grows, the tissue calcifies and turns into a dense bone. But before the growth plates close, they’re susceptible to injuries from falls and jumps.
This kind of trauma is especially dangerous because it can result in the stopped growth of damaged cartilage cells. But the undamaged cells will continue growing naturally, which ultimately causes bone deformity.
Growth plates close once the bones reach their full size, and they’re no longer susceptible to injuries from training. Depending on the breed, dogs stop growing when they’re anywhere from 6 to 24 months old. Small dogs like Chihuahuas reach their adult size in just over half a year. Large dogs, on the other hand, take much longer to grow into their final height. Very large breeds, like Mastiffs or Great Danes, are fully grown at two years of age.
But it’s not just bones that are experiencing quick development. Dogs' muscles and ligaments are also growing fast to support the dog’s bones and joints. The soft tissue can also be easily injured from too much exercise. And if the pup is not taking enough rest, it’ll also take a very long time to heal.
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn't let your pooch enjoy any exercise until fully grown up. Physical activity has numerous benefits for a young dog’s body, from strengthening muscles to increasing agility. You just need to consider what your puppy can and can’t do and figure out appropriate fun activities.
What Counts As Exercise?
Before we get into the core of the problem, we need to address first the things that count as exercise. Compared to adult dogs, puppies require less proper exercise such as walking, running or swimming. While they’re more energetic, puppies have much lower stamina, which makes them tired easily.
It’s not just physical exercise that matters. You should combine different activities to keep your little canine’s body and mind stimulated.
Luckily, there are a ton of fun exercises appropriate for puppies that you can do with your pooch. Every puppy loves to play, and games like wrestling or chasing are a great way to keep your Fido physically and mentally active. Interactive toys like sniff pads and puzzles are also great for burning excess energy without putting too much strain on the puppy’s bones and muscles.
Activities That Are Risky To Puppy’s Development
There are certain physical activities that can have a negative effect on the way a dog’s body develops through puppyhood.
Related: When Can Puppies Go Outside Safely?
While there’s more research to be done on the subject, a study conducted on different large breed puppies showed that puppies using stairs in the first three months of age had an increased risk of developing hip dysplasia (2). Going up and down the stairs require a greater range of motion in front and back legs than walking on flat terrain. Plus, a single misstep can easily end up in stumbling and injury.
If possible, you shouldn’t let your dog climb the stairs until fully grown. Smaller pooches can easily be carried up and down the stairs. But if you own a large breed, doing that will probably become impossible after only a couple of months. In that case, get a walking ramp or simply restrict going up and down until your Fido is well grown.
While agility training is a great exercise for strength and endurance, it’s not recommended for dogs that are under one year old. Jumping and running over and around obstacles requires coordination and flexibility puppies are yet to master while growing up.
Now that doesn’t mean you should avoid agility training completely until your pup becomes an adult. The puppy stage is the perfect time to build the foundation for this sport, as these skills take time to build (3). You can start by introducing your canine companion to different surfaces and learning basic obedience behaviour. Then, you can slowly start practising easy tricks, like spinning or weaving through your legs.
Jumping On And Off Furniture
Seeing your pooch jumping on the sofa might be cute, but you shouldn’t approve of that behaviour for health reasons. Jumping on and off furniture puts a lot of strain on your dog’s joints because it involves going from hard to a soft surface, and vice versa. This movement has a greater risk of twists and strains, which is especially dangerous for growing bones.
Surely every pet parent dreams about enjoying their favourite outdoor activities with their dogs. But it doesn’t matter whether you jog, hike, or ride a bicycle, don’t expect your puppy to be able to accompany you any time soon.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them for a walk or for a swim but do that in short sessions so that your young pooch doesn’t get over-exercised. You should also keep in mind that puppies have soft paws, just like our soles. This means it will take time for them to toughen up for walking over certain surfaces. Keep this in mind before deciding on the location to take your canine companion. Avoid rough surfaces until your Fido is at least one year old. Until then, stick to walks through parks and streets.
How Much Exercise For A Puppy
As you can imagine, there are no easy answers to this question. It all depends on the age of the puppy, the breed, and the type of exercise. Even if all these factors are the same, there might be differences between individual puppies.
To make it a bit easier, we’ll share a rule of thumb that is often mentioned in pet circles: add five minutes of exercise per every month of age, and then repeat those 2 times per day. That means a 2-month-old puppy needs 2x10 minutes of exercise, while a 4-month pup needs 2x20 minutes and so on.
Related: Best Puppy Harness.
The five-minute rule is yet to be scientifically proven, so we should take it with a grain of salt. It’s more of a general guideline to help you get the idea. Still, the main thing is paying attention to your dog and consulting the vet if you are unsure.
You should keep in mind that different breeds take a different amount of time to reach adulthood, at least in terms of physical growth. The larger the breed, the more it will take their bones to reach full size. So while a Pomeranian is fully grown before the first birthday, a Great Dane is considered a puppy until two years of age.
Working breeds, such as shepherds and terriers, are known for their high energy. This means that you might not be able to tire them with just physical exercise. Even if you somehow do, you risk over forcing their joints and muscles. To drain their energy without overexercising, engage them in activities that keep their minds stimulated as well.
Finally, flat-faced breeds, like Pugs and Bulldogs, can’t keep up with other breeds in terms of exercise. Their short snouts make it harder for them to breathe properly, so running is often short and tiresome, especially during humid weather. To keep your puppy stimulated, focus on activities that are highly mentally engaging.
Keep in mind that signs of over-exercising a puppy aren’t always as apparent. Young dogs are often too excited to show tiredness, so you should enforce rest breaks by putting them on a leash after a certain amount of time.
Puppies are highly energetic balls of fluff that need regular exercise for a healthy body and mind. But too much physical activity can be even more dangerous than too little of it. A good rule of thumb is to exercise your puppy twice a day following the calculation of five minutes per every month of age, but don’t be afraid to adapt your approach to the individual needs of your puppy.
- Farriccelli, A. April 15, 2022. “How Exercise Can Harm a Puppy's Growth Plates.” PetHelpful. Retrieved February 25, 2023. “https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Puppy-Exercise-Needs-How-Much-is-Too-Much”
- Krontveit, R; Nødtvedt, A; Sævik, B; Ropstad, E; Trangerud, C. June 2012. “Housing- and exercise-related risk factors associated with the development of hip dysplasia as determined by radiographic evaluation in a prospective cohort of Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Leonbergers, and Irish Wolfhounds in Norway.” National Library of Medicine. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22620698/
- Gibeault, S. March 26, 2019. “It’s All Tricks Training: How to Prepare Your Puppy for Dog Agility.” American Kennel Club. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/tricks-training-preparing-puppy-for-agility/