Too Much Exercise For a Puppy
Puppies are full of boundless energy and enthusiasm, and when they don’t get the exercise needed they can become crazy and destructive, something no dog owner enjoys. There is no question that puppies love to run around and play, but like almost everything else in life, there is such thing as too much of a good thing! When it comes to overdoing puppy exercise, the primary risks are associated with the puppy’s skeletal system, as heavy exercise can harm a puppy’s growing body. So how should you safely go about ensuring your dog receives the exercise they need, without damaging or jeopardizing their growing body?
There is much debate in regards to what is too much exercise in puppies. Vets, breeders, and trainers generally agree that too much exercise can be harmful, but there isn’t a great deal of consensus when it comes to recommending an exact formula based on a puppy’s breed and age. As a potential or existing puppy owner, the best thing you can do is educate yourself on the topic to help avoid potential risk factors. It’s best not to panic or jump to any conclusions based on a headline you read or single opinion, as with most pet heath related topics the opinions on the far ends of the spectrum can be polarizing.
Puppy Growth Plates
A dog’s bones are held together with soft tissue (muscles, tendons, and ligaments). In adult dogs, soft tissue is weaker than the bone, injury from overexertion will result in tears, sprains, or strains. But in puppies, the bones are weaker than their soft tissue and therefore injury from overexertion poses a risk to the growth plates, and unfortunately this risk can be permanent.
Growth plates are soft pockets of cartilage near the end of dog bones, the tissue gradually calcifies into more dense bone structure as the dog matures. Before the growth plates close and solidify into bone, they are vulnerable to injury. An injured growth plate may cause damage to the cells, and can halt or alter growth. This damage leads to a growth imbalance, as the undamaged side grows disproportionately longer than the side with the damaged growth plate. The majority of growth in dogs occurs between 4-8 months, after 8-months there is limited bone growth, and after 12-months most growth plates are closed.
Like humans, puppy bones don’t reach full density until after puberty. While puppies are growing, their bones are still somewhat soft and at higher risk of damage. It’s very common for puppies to suffer fractures in their leg bones, in fact, approximately half of all bone fractures occur in dogs under 12-months old. Spiral fractures occur when the top and bottom half of a bone twist in opposite directions. This type of injury is most commonly caused by excessive force (jumping off things) or excessive torque (twisting).
A General Rule
The type of exercise is definitely more impactful than the overall length, for example 20-minutes of rigorous fetch is much different than 20-minutes of on-leash walking. But if you are looking for a general guideline, the U.K. Kennel Club recommends keeping exercise sessions to around five minutes per month of age. So for a 3-month old dog, the risks of injury are lower when splitting 30-minutes into two 15-minute sessions rather and just one 30-minute session. This is where you have to use your judgement, because some dogs need much more exercise than others. Don’t be afraid if your 4-month old golden retriever is at the park for more than 20-minutes, it’s just a general guideline to keep in mind. If you are finding that your dog has a never ending energy, they may just need a little more mental stimulation. Training is a great way to tire out your dog, there are also a number of puzzles and fun games that you can try at home to help promote mental stimulation.
Things To Avoid With Puppies
Jumping: try to avoid jumping on and off the furniture in and out of cars.
Forced exercise: try to avoid exercise where your dog doesn’t have an opportunity to stop (biking, hiking, or excessive running).
Repetitive fetch: try to avoid throwing balls or frisbees long distances over and over. Abrupt starting and stopping can put excessive force on their bones.
Stairs: try to avoid having your puppy use large staircases on a regular basis.
Agility: most agility trainers will have an age requirement or an introductory class for puppies where jumping and repetitive stopping and starting is not included.
Healthy Forms of Exercise With Puppies
The majority of a puppy's exercise should be self-directed, this refers mostly to walking and playing. Whether on or off leash walking, it’s best to let your puppy roam, let them control the pace of the walk and offer ample opportunities to stop, sniff, and explore. If your puppy looks tired, either take a break or carry them home. At off-leash parks encourage your puppy to engage and interact with other dogs, but keep a close eye that your puppy isn’t outmatched by a larger more energetic dog and don’t be afraid to intervene if the play becomes rough. Swimming is another great activity for puppies, as there is no impact to their bones or joints.