Exercise to Keep Your Puppy Happy, Healthy and Active
Like humans, our pets require daily stimulation—both physical and mental—to stay healthy and happy. Although it’s easy to assume puppies get enough exercise because they are naturally energetic, it’s important for pet parents to establish a proactive routine that not only keeps puppies busy with positive behaviors but that also helps them foster important habits for the future.
A daily active routine helps enhance your puppy’s quality of life and helps decrease the chances of unwanted behaviors that can be side effects of boredom, including destructive chewing, digging and barking. Here’s what to consider when you’re ready to start a puppy exercise routine.
How to tire out a puppy
It’s important for pet parents to know their puppy’s limitations in order to choose the right activity and level of exercise. You’ll want something that is not only safe but also at the appropriate intensity level for your puppy’s specific age and development. Keep in mind that a lot of activities that aren’t traditionally called exercise still require energy and can help tire out your puppy. Using treat puzzle toys and practicing their training cues and behaviors can help stimulate their mental muscles, which, in addition to physical exercise, will surely result in a tired pup!
When focusing on physical activities your puppy can safely participate in, consider the following:
- Go for a walk: Dogs benefit from daily walks, and practicing polite leash skills requires them to exert both physical and mental energy. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian about how far you can go based on your puppy’s vaccination status, age, developmental stage, breed and other physical characteristics. Be sure to let your puppy take their time to explore and sniff (where it’s safe), as this really mentally activates them. Go on an occasional “sniffari” and let your puppy set the pace and route.
- Let them go swimming: Swimming is an excellent activity for puppies, assuming they enjoy the water. If your puppy naturally loves to swim, this is a fun way for them to expend some energy and engage in essential exercise. Be sure to always provide an easily accessible exit ramp so your dog can get out of the water whenever they need or want to, and always keep an eye on your dog around any open water, like a pool or lake. Take time to show and train your puppy how to safely exit the water. If your puppy is just getting used to the water, a puppy life vest is a great way to help them stay safe while helping them build on those basic swimming skills.
- Visit the dog park: Another way to socialize your puppy while also allowing them to exercise is to visit to the local dog park. Wait until they are at least 16 weeks old, and be sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations. Always follow park rules. And remember that puppies can easily become overwhelmed by other dogs who may not be polite greeters and may not have been properly socialized themselves. Watch out for territorial dog park regulars who could gang up on your puppy. Take it slow when introducing your puppy to new puppy friends. One puppy or dog at a time is ideal. Always supervise dog park interactions, paying close attention to body language to ensure things are going smoothly. If any dogs are playing aggressively, growling or baring teeth, causing your puppy to roll over or spend time on their back, immediately remove your puppy from the situation.
Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. Activities to avoid include:
- Running and jumping activities: Fun as it may seem, puppies don’t have the stamina to keep up with running adults, and their bones and joints aren’t fully formed meaning running could cause them physical harm. (See below on when you can start running with your dog.)
- Rollerblading/biking/skateboarding: These activities are dangerous for all dogs and should be avoided at all ages. Most dogs can’t keep up, and there’s a strong chance that your dog—or you—could get hurt.
How much should you play with your puppy?
While there is no one-size-fits all recommendation about play, there are some guidelines to follow. One rule of thumb is to shoot for twice-daily bouts of activity that equal five minutes per month of your dog’s age. (That’s two 25-minute exercise sessions for a 5-month-old puppy, for example).
Remember that our puppies can’t come right out and tell us when they’re overworked, but there are some indicators that you can be on the lookout for that might mean it’s time to take a rest for a while. A puppy who is panting heavily or becoming very naughty—nipping, running away from you or chasing intently—needs a break and a nap!
With those indicators in mind, here are some ideas for healthy exercise with your puppy at various age ranges:
6 weeks to 4 months:
- Short walks on soft terrain
- Playing with soft toys
- Swimming in warm (but not hot) water for short periods of time. Remember, a puppy life jacket is essential.
4 to 8 months:
- Integrate longer walks but still on soft terrain
- Playing with soft toys
- Swimming and playing with toys in the water
8 to 12 months:
- Longer walks on soft terrain are appropriate by this age
- Playing with soft toys
- Swimming and playing with toys for longer periods of time
12 months and up:
- Jogs with your puppy, as long as you begin with short distances on soft terrain as your puppy builds endurance (be sure to check first with your veterinarian as the size and breed of your dog may mean you should still wait for them to join in on runs)
- Swimming and playing with toys in the water is also still a solid option
- Playing with age-appropriate toys
- Mentally stimulating games, like puzzles that hide treats
Your veterinarian is an excellent source of advice on exercise with your puppy, even if you don’t have specific concerns.
When can you start running with your puppy?
Remember that young puppies aren’t up for running because they lack stamina and have developing bones and joints. Talk with your veterinarian to determine when the time is right to start running. You can typically start incorporating jogging into your dog’s exercise routine when they’re about 12 months old, but start easy and slow and work your way up. Be on the lookout for hazards like glass, holes, ditches, wires, stakes and metal fragments.
Exercise is important for your puppy for so many reasons. Besides the physical and mental stimulation it provides, exercising with your puppy is a fabulous way to build your bond and strengthen your ties over the years.