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Exercising a puppy and young dog

Most dog owners envisage an active life with their dog from simple country walks, to wilderness hikes and agility courses. How can we help them develop into strong adults without compromising their young bodies?

Most dog owners envisage an active life with their dog, from simple country walks to wilderness hikes and agility courses. They want to be out and about on plenty of adventures throughout the dog’s life. Achieving and maintaining physical fitness is essential and starts when the dog is young.

Developing into a fit, able and agile dog, with the physical skills to climb hills, jump ditches, play football, or complete agility courses, requires appropriate exercise when young. We must not wrap our dogs in cotton wool and heavily restrict what they do. Once vaccinated, they must go out for walks and play to develop strength, balance, stamina, and agility. However, we must be cautious of our dogs doing too much, not just regarding the length and frequency of walks but also the activities they do during the walks and at home in the house and garden.

Puppies and young dogs do not have the physiological capacity to do long, difficult walks. They develop strength and stamina over time. Length of walk guidelines, such as 5 minutes lead walking per month of age twice daily, offer some guidance, but may be over-restrictive for certain breeds. A suggestion of 15-30 minutes twice daily until 4 months of age, then 45-60 minutes until six months is considered safe as long as the owner walks at the dog’s pace and is observant of their capabilities and behaviour. If they begin to lag behind during the walk, become distracted, and are clearly no longer enjoying the walk, it would be wise to end the walk.

After six months of age and into adulthood, when the vulnerable growth plates of their bones have closed, the difficulty level of the walk can be steadily increased with more challenging terrains and activities being introduced, while observing how the dog copes both during and after the walk. If they are overly tired after a walk and seem slow and uninterested the next day, you should consider reducing what you felt was suitable. You can take a few days rest
and then build up length and activity again, but more slowly.

More important than the duration is the activities that are undertaken during the walk. While growing, your puppy's body is more vulnerable to high-impact activities such as ball chasing, frisbee catching and jumping from high places. Their skeletal and joint system is not as strong as an adult, and heavy, twisted landings can be very damaging. Activities with all four feet on the ground are more suitable such as hide and seek, fun recalls and basic training, playtime with other dogs of a similar age, and walking and balancing over different surfaces and terrains. These are great for developing a healthy body and brain.

An oversight often made by owners is that their puppies are also exercising in the home and garden, and this is not being taken into consideration as part of the puppy’s daily routine. It is essential to apply the same principles of keeping all four feet on the floor and choosing activities and environments that are safe for their developing bodies.

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