When you’re exercising a young dog, how far should you go? How much is too much? And what are the alternatives to going for a walk? Here we take a look at what kind of exercise your young dog really needs.
How old is young?
First, though, let’s define ‘young’. Your dog may still be bounding around like a puppy when their muzzle is dotted with grey, but most experts agree that a dog is no longer young by the time they’re around 5-9 years old. That would mean that a younger dog is less than five.
Of course, some breeds tend to live much longer than others. While the average life span for a dog is 10-13 years, Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers and Dachshunds can live up to 20 years. You’ll notice these dogs are all on the small size.
At the other end of the scale, very large breeds such as Newfoundlands, Mastiffs, St Bernards and Rottweilers are less likely to live beyond the age of 10.
From puppy to adolescent
Your dog’s need for exercise will vary hugely as they grow from a puppy cautiously taking their first steps outside to a lolloping adolescent who’s testing your boundaries and theirs.
It’s important to get the foundations right, so let’s start with exercise for your newly-acquired puppy.
Put the brakes on puppyish exuberance
Honestly, is there anything more exciting than getting a puppy? A brand new fluffy being has taken up residence in your home and has swiftly taken over your heart. You want to do your absolute best for them so they can be happy and healthy.
Exercise is vital to help your puppy stay fit, develop their muscle mass and help them discover their new world.
However, when your puppy’s very young, you must take care not to over-exercise them. It’s easy to get carried away and let their natural exuberance take the lead. But if you do, it could have consequences for your pup’s joint health later on.
It’s all about the growth plates
When your puppy’s young, their bones are relatively soft because they’re still growing. In fact, in the early months, your puppy’s soft tissues – the tendons and ligaments around the muscle and bone – are stronger than the bone itself.
At each end of the bones of your puppy’s legs, there are areas called growth plates. These are soft areas of flexible cartilage that grow and gradually harden as your puppy develops.
By the time your pup has reached the age of around 8 months, these growth plates will have hardened into bone. Up until that age, you should avoid over-exercising your puppy so that the growth plates can develop normally. This is why trainers usually ask for dogs to be at least one year old before they join agility classes.
How much exercise does your puppy need?
If your pooch has just arrived home and is a pup aged between 8 weeks and 3 months, it’s recommended that you don’t walk them outside of the garden until their vaccines are complete.
As your puppy grows, the golden rule is to add five minutes of exercise each month. So a four month old puppy needs 20 minutes of exercise a day (twice a day), while a six month old puppy needs 30 minutes of exercise (again, up to twice a day).
Help prevent neophobia
If you don’t expose your puppy to different sights and sounds between the crucial ages of three to 16 weeks, they can develop neophobia – a fear of new things – as an adult. Make sure this doesn’t happen by gently introducing your pup to new things.
Encourage them to walk on different types of surfaces, whether that’s grass or a gravel path, so they’re happy to venture forth when they’re able to test their paws further afield in parks or on pavements.
Also, where possible, introduce them to new dogs and people and reward them when they react calmly to new experiences.
Help your puppy’s brain develop
For the first year, puppy walking should be very relaxed. Give your puppy plenty of time to sniff, explore and investigate the environment around them. Their brains are growing as much as their bodies, and this early exploration of the world around them is vital for their development.
Exercising your adolescent dog
Your dog will reach adolescence between the ages of 6 to 18 months, depending on their breed. At this stage, they’ll be raring to go, keen to see what they can discover and what’s beyond the next gate, hedge or field.
Your adolescent dog may seem as though they never get tired, but remember that their bodies are still growing and their joints are still developing, so don’t overdo it.
All grown up
The amount of exercise your dog needs will also depend on your dog’s age, breed and energy level. For example, an adult Labrador Retriever should easily cope with a five mile walk every day, whereas a fully-grown Chihuahua will only need to cover 1.3 miles to get all the exercise they need.
Mental and physical agility
Once your dog is over a year old, this is an excellent time to get involved with some additional activity that will train your dog both mentally and physically. This also offers a great alternative to long dog walks, which will give both you and your dog a change of pace.
- Find a local club or trainer who can put your pooch through their agility paces or set up your own dog agility course in your garden with hurdles, ramps, tunnels and weaving obstacles.
- Take part in The Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Scheme which has different levels aimed at helping your dog to behave well in human and canine company, deal well with distractions and walk well on the lead.
- Try flyball, a team sport where dogs take it in turns to leap over a series of jumps, collect a ball and return over the jumps, allowing the next dog to take over the relay.
How do you exercise your younger dog? Do you have any great advice for new dog owners? Then please head over to our Facebook and Instagram pages and share your experience. We’d love to hear from you.