Off on the Right Paw…Puppy Fitness Basics

By Jennifer Hennessey, DVM, CVJ

Puppies, not unlike toddlers, benefit on numerous levels from daily exercise. Regular exercise activities will create a happier dog and also reduce bothersome behaviors like digging, hyperactivity, destructive chewing, etc. Understanding the basics of proper puppy fitness and physical training is essential, not only to help your puppy develop properly, but also to reduce risk of injury.

Regardless if your puppy is a family pet or a future athlete, you must take into consideration your dog’s size, breed and age when selecting between play activities and rigorous exercise.  Exercise activities can be categorized as either self-paced or forced exercise.  Examples of forced exercise include leashed jogging, excessive frisbee or ball play, and long walks. Puppies should not experience forced exercise until over 6 months of age. Puppy fitness at this early age should be completed at their own pace such as running freely with the option to sit or rest when needed. Your little friend has boundless energy and can easily overwork his young body and joints. Developing an age appropriate exercise plan will allow for a safe and smart way to develop your puppy’s inner athlete without risking joint/bone stress.

Age-Appropriate Puppercise

If less than 6 months of age:

  • Start with a consistent routine of obedience training and short duration, non-forced exercise
  • Rule of thumb on training at this age: exercise for 5 minutes per month of age twice daily (i.e. 20 minutes/session for a 4 month old pup)
  • Obedience work at this age will set the foundation for a better future relationship between you and your pet

Puppies 6+ months of age:

  • Initiate strength training such as learning to shake or wave a forepaw, sitting up  to beg, standing on hind limbs and balancing, running off-leash and tugging
  • Typical strength training exercises can be completed in small spaces, such as in your living room, and strengthen forelimbs, back/core body, and rear leg muscles

Puppies 14+ months of age:

  • Now that the growth plates have closed, start endurance training and high impact exercise including jumping and running.
  • If your pet is neutered or spayed, it is recommended to wait until 20 months of age due to delayed growth plate closure. Experiencing too much rigorous exercise before growth plates close can lead to long-term joint/bone issues.

Fitness Fun!

Time spent training your puppy is rewarding and strengthens that special bond between you and your pet.  Motivation to work with your pet will come easy when you consider your pet’s fitness activities as part of game time. Most importantly, remember to always use positive re-enforcement techniques when working with your furry friend.

Safety First!

Remember to seek advice from your pet’s veterinarian about overall fitness abilities and appropriate activities. Avoid overtraining your little friend with the same routine to prevent boredom and improve overall muscle development. Keep in mind when working with your pet that hard, hot pavement or loose unstable surfaces may result in injury. As a puppy parent, your job is to look after your pup’s best interest as you would for a child. Restrict exercise immediately after eating and regulate exercise by allowing or enforcing resting times. Dogs that overplay or work during hot, humid conditions are susceptible to heatstroke therefore be aware of the weather before starting outdoor activities.

Raising a puppy is an exciting and unique experience. Exercise and physical training will create a happy and healthy pet thus providing a win-win for the whole family.

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