Exercising a puppy is a delicate balance. Encouraging exercise doesn’t just help stimulate growth and keep your dog healthy, but it helps keep your dog calm and to develop good behavioural habits. Puppies are also very delicate and tire quickly, so too much exercise can be harmful. It is worth noting that puppies should not play with strange dogs until your puppy has completed his or her vaccinations and your vet gives the go-ahead. This means you will have to find safe ways to exercise your puppy in other ways. In this article, we will explain how to exercise your puppy the right way, so they expend energy and stimulate their brain at a rate suitable to their growth, and some of the most effective and enjoyable puppy exercises and games.
No discussion about puppy exercise is complete without mentioning puppy food. Diet and exercise go hand in hand: without regular exercise, dogs, like us humans, do not burn off their excess energy and become irritable and overweight, which can lead to a variety of health and behavioural problems. Conversely, a puppy that does not eat a regular, healthy diet which provides them with the nutrients they need to grow and stay strong, will be underweight, will lack energy, and will not have the things his or her body needs to develop properly.
Puppies grow at a much faster rate than adult dogs, so need different levels of key nutrients in their diet to ensure they develop to their full potential. This is why they should eat puppy food and not dog food made for adults. Equally, large dogs (i.e. puppies who will be 25 kg or more when they are fully grown) grow at a much faster rate than small or medium-sized dogs. So, again, their diet should reflect this. Puppies have smaller stomachs than their adult counterparts, so while they need to eat a lot, they should eat smaller meals, more often, throughout the day. For more information on how much to feed your puppy and how to transition from a puppy diet to a junior diet, and eventually to an adult dog food diet, see our handy puppy feeding guide.
While there are always differences between breeds and individual puppies, including how much energy they need to spend, with the right diet, most owners can expect a puppy to want regular play. However, while they may seem at times to be boundless bundles of playful energy, puppies actually need much less exercise than adults because they are smaller and tire faster.
Because puppies grow quickly, so do their exercise requirements change regularly. Remember these important tips to ensure you don’t over-exercise your puppy:
Technically, puppies have more energy as they get older. This is due to them eating larger meals in single sittings and because their bodies and muscles (which store and expend energy) are getting bigger and stronger. However, it doesn’t always seem that way from the perspective of the owner, because puppies manifest their energy in different ways at different times. 0-3 months: Puppies are learning to explore the world around them and their own bodies, so you can expect lots of running, jumping, and play-fighting, interspersed with lots of rest. Use this natural curiosity to begin training your puppy as soon as possible to encourage good behaviours and habits. 3-6 months: This is the age when puppies tend to start going outside and socialising with other dogs. They often haven’t learnt the full extent of their limits yet, so don’t be surprised if they let their excitement of the outdoors get the better of them. You can anticipate this by training them to follow your commands from as early as possible. When your puppy is awake, you can expect them to exhibit a lot of energy for longer. But they will also sleep for longer, too. 6-12 months: Depending on your dog’s breed, they will be close to their full adult size…but don’t be fooled! He or she is still a puppy at heart. They will still have a lot of energy. Not only will you start to teach them good habits, but you can help release some of that energy through training activities.
As ever, it depends on the breed and the individual puppy. For example, Border Collies were bred for longer bouts of exercise, so Border Collie puppies can run around for longer than, say, a Poodle puppy. However, it also depends on each individual puppy and their own health and fitness conditions. But whichever the breed, never force a puppy to exercise for longer than it wants. As soon as he or she looks like they want or need to rest, let them do so. Also, make sure they always have access to fresh water in case they exhaust themselves, and shade if you are playing in the sun. Some breeds are better than others at knowing their limits. Some Spaniels, for instance, will never stop chasing a ball no matter how tired they get. If your puppy is panting excessively and you have exceeded the 5-minutes-per-month-of-age rule, stop and allow your puppy to rest (which might mean removing the toy from them or moving indoors).
Until puppies have their vaccinations, it is dangerous for them to go outside to areas where they may encounter other dogs or animals as they may contract illnesses. The cycle of vaccinations is normally complete at 14-16 weeks, and many vets recommend waiting 1-2 weeks after vaccinating them to take your puppy to areas with other dogs. So, before this period you should keep your puppy indoors or only let them out off the lead into a controlled, closed space where you can keep an eye on them – e.g. a garden with high fences and no ways of escaping. Naturally, this will limit the amount of exercise they can do, but this is a good thing! Puppies are still growing, so their bones are softer and their joints more sensitive, which means repetitive, prolonged exercise, like long walks, can actually be harmful. Instead, keep play sessions short and varied with a few dos and don’ts.
Once your puppy has had their vaccinations and it is safe to go outside, start socialising your puppy with other dogs immediately. If you have other dogs in the home already, then you can begin the socialisation process earlier. This is a crucial age for puppies to interact and play with other dogs, so they learn that is a safe and fun way to exercise. It will also take some of the burdens off of you if your puppy is happy to run around with other dogs. Here are some tips on how to socialise your dog:
As we mentioned earlier, puppies want to explore the world around them, their limits and their capabilities, so it is important they don’t just run off their puppy food, but do something which challenges them mentally, too. Having a variety of games and exercises to enjoy will keep them from straining themselves through repetitive action and exercise their brains, as well. For all the following exercises, keep them very short (5 minutes or less) while your puppy is young, gradually increasing the play duration as they get older.
A balance between a consistent meal plan of puppy food and enjoyable but safe exercise are the key pillars of raising a happy and healthy puppy; keep play sessions short and sweet, and watch for any signs your puppy might be exhausting him or herself. Finally, it is always a good idea to speak with your vet about any exceptional limitations of your own puppy – each one is unique and it is better to be aware so you can be confident in the games you play together.