Puppies: lively, active bundles of cute!
Always on the go and looking for something to do while exploring their world. Then the odd period of rest and deep sleep.
Because puppies are so busy, many owners think that it’s impossible to provide too much exercise. Many think that it’s okay tire them out with exercise to the point that they no longer want to run around and play. Some peace in the house!
Most people however, don’t consider another factor – the development of the puppy’s growth plates.
People don’t consider the damage that is possible while your puppy is growing and still developing.
To work out how much exercise your puppy needs, ensuring that the growth plates develop properly and normally, it is important to know:
- what the growth plates are
- what they do and
- how they develop.
Growth Plates – What are they?
The growth plates in the dog are the areas of cartilage that develop at the end of the long bones of the legs. Over time, they calcify and develop into denser matter as the puppy gets older and works their muscles more.
As your puppy grows, how and when they exercise should match their development – only increasing as they grow. This happens in conjunction with the hardening process of the growth plates themselves.
Before growth plates fully develop and mature into harder bone matter, they can be extremely vulnerable to injury. Injuries to growth plates mostly occur from too much exercise and hard impacts. These are the final parts of the long bones to harden.
Injures or fractures to a leg before the growth plates have hardened, can present problems with healing. This may lead to potential developmental deformities of the leg or joint. It may even include cell damage that prevents the growth plate from fully developing, leading to a deformity of the bone.
The most common area for a problem with the growth plates to develop is in the elbow, between the ulna and radial bones of the front legs.
Damaged growth plates in this area may cause one of the bones to stop growing. But the opposite bone will continue to develop normally. This can lead to bow legs and an awkward moving gait that the puppy will have for life. Over time, this may lead to uneven pressure on the other legs, causing a range of secondary problems for the dog down the line, including early onset arthritis.
So, how much exercise do puppies need?
This is a challenging question.
The goalposts are ever changing due to your puppy’s changing age and growth!
How much exercise also depends on the type of exercise that your pup receives.
Walks on the lead are low-impact and can be carried out more often for short periods.
High-impact, vigorous play such as running and jumping, should be discouraged or monitored VERY carefully to avoid causing damage to the developing limbs.
This potential for damage during development is why you should never get your puppy started in any canine sports such as agility until your pup is at least a year to eighteen months old.
This is one of the rules of the sport to protect the health and growth of your developing puppy.
Pups go through their largest, fasted period of physical growth and development between the ages of four and eight months. This is when growth plates are also working their hardest to harden off.
After around eight months of age, the growth plates should be fully or almost fully fused, depending on the breed of your dog. This period is the largest window of risk of damage.
Some giant dog breeds grow and develop at a much slower rate. It can take eighteen months to two years for growth to complete and the growth plates to have fully developed.
When exercising your puppy before they reach the age where the growth plates have fully developed, it is important to factor in their age and stage of development. Increase their exercise levels as they get older – gradually!
A good rule of thumb: for every month of the pup’s age, they should receive five minutes of exercise, twice daily. So once your puppy is six months old, they should be getting half an hour of exercise, twice per day (not high-impact exercise).
See our post on Exercising your Puppy Safely
Exercise examples with agility puppies: let them run straight through a “jump” with the cross bar lying on the floor. Try to avoid sharp turns at high speed. Avoid throwing a ball too much at high speed as this causes the puppy to stop hard and then turn tight to return to you, putting a lot of strain on an underdeveloped skeleton and immature muscles.
Take into account your dog’s development when working out what is best for them. Rather err on the safe side until their growth plates are closed.
Do not push them past the point of tiredness or reluctance to play because their muscles become tired and cannot help to hold and protect their skeleton. This is when injuries occur!
Remember that a half hour sedate walk is very different to a half hour of vigorous jumping and running around!
Don’t forget to give them some mental stimulation too – this is exercise too and also the most tiring form of exercise for your puppy!
You can protect your puppy’s joints while they are growing with Sashas Blend.
Have fun with your puppy.