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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Make It a Paws-itively Perfect Spring

By Jennifer Hennessey, DVM, CVJ

After being cooped up all winter, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors!  As the weather begins to warm up, both you and your pet will soon be finding yourselves outside enjoying the spring weather. And, while warmer weather may mean fun in the sun, there are many safety tips to consider ensuring a safe, enjoyable spring season!

As we prepare to shed our coats during the warmer temperatures, remember that your pet still adorns theirs. If you have a dog whose breed has a long, thick coat such as Golden Retriever, consider scheduling a springtime pampering session with a groomer.  A spring clip will help your pooch stay cool and will reduce the chances of overheating.  With the warm, muggy days ahead, keep your pet’s outdoor time limited and slowly increase their exposure/activities outdoors.  Our pets need to acclimate to the changing weather in order to effectively and safely adapt to the demands of hotter weather. Heat stroke is not just a summer emergency! Heat stroke incidence is actually high in the spring due to the sudden long days in the sun after the cooler winter months.  While outdoors, make sure your pet has plenty of available shade, breeze and fresh water.

Spring time means cleaning time! As we begin home cleaning regimes, use caution with any cleaning products that may come in contact with your pet. Keep cleaning products out of reach from your pet. Liquids may accidently be licked or ingesting which can lead to severe illness or death. Chemicals that contact skin/hair can be irritating and painful. And, just because a product is labeled as “natural” or “green” does not indicate that it’s safe for your pet.  Also, keep your pet in mind during spring yard and garden improvements. Use caution, or better yet just avoid, fertilizers and pesticides. Many plants, though eye pleasing, are toxic to dogs and cats so research your landscaping décor before planting. Use caution with indoor plants and flowers, especially lilies, especially if you have cats.

Along with the beautiful flowers, birds and butterflies, warmer weather also brings pesky insects and parasites to your yard and pet. See your family veterinarian for flea, tick and heartworm prevention.  If you wait until you have parasite problems, the issue becomes more costly and difficult to control.

What a great time of year! Play and plan smartly for your four-legged friends and help them have a safe, fun spring!

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