All dogs need exercise to keep fit and healthy, this much is true and puppies have loads of energy, so taking your puppy with you for a trail or Parkrun sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? In actual fact, too much exercise and the wrong type of exercise, at the wrong time, can actually be doing more harm than good. This article discusses your puppy’s physical development and offers advice on implementing an exercise program which will help rather than hinder your puppy’s physical development.
If you are reading this article chances are that when you got your puppy, you were looking for a companion. Someone to delight in the joys of life, by your side. Walks on the beach. Hikes up a mountain and running on the trail. So, I understand that what I am about to tell you might not be something you really want to hear. Especially if you are a very fit and active individual, and really want your puppy to be alongside you, all the time.
I have first-hand experience; my husband adopted a 6-month-old border collie. He wanted a border collie as he wanted a dog that loved physical exercise and would naturally want to be active all the time, as he was specifically looking for his new running buddy. He even named the dog Addo, as his dog was going to be his training partner as he prepared for the
Addo Ultra. Not too long after Addo came to live with us, Dr Tee and Jessica Evans (Animal Health and Hydro’s Certified
Canine Fitness Trainer) gave us the bad news. It would be another 12 months before we could even consider running with Addo. Even though Addo could not run with us, my husband could not put his training on hold, so off we went without Addo, and hit the trails on our own. Doing many organised trail events, I could not help but notice the number of young dogs, many well under a year of age, doing distances of between 5km and 10km with their human companions and this got me to wondering if their pet-parents were in fact aware of the potential risks. This is what prompted me to write this article, on the basis of all that Dr Tee and Jessica had explained to us. Have you ever seen an X-ray of a puppy’s skeleton? On an X-Ray you will see what looks like gaps between the bones. Depending on the age of the puppy these “gaps” may vary in size. These “gaps” are actually growth plates, and are soft cartilaginous areas at the end of the bones. This cartilage contains cells which divide rapidly, and calcify over time, which results in elongated bone growth over a number of months, as your puppy grows in size.
Dr Tee tells us that depending on your puppy’s breed these plates can take between 12 and 24 months to properly close. The larger the dog, the longer it will take for the growth plates to close.
As already said, these growth plates are soft, making them extremely vulnerable to injury. Excessive exercise or the wrong type of activity for your puppy’s age, such as high impact exercise, can cause permanent damage through an injury to the growth plates or joints, which may impede the proper development of some of your puppy’s bones, as he grows.
Another risk is Hip Dysplasia. While Hip Dysplasia does have a genetic component it is another condition which may be exacerbated by excessive and/or improper exercise. Hip Dysplasia is the malformation or abnormal development of the hip joint which causes joint laxity, or conversely joint laxity which causes the malformation of the hip joint. As the dog with Dysplastic hips walks, the forces of the joint against the socket are not evenly distributed, which results in microfractures which cause pain.
I can guess what you are thinking, “my puppy is fine, he isn’t even out of breath after a 10km”. That’s the problem with puppies. They have tons of energy, are eager to please and want to be by your side, all the time. That is why you unfortunately need to be the bad guy, and disappoint your puppy now, to ensure a healthy adult dog, who can be your running companion when he is ready. Within reason of course.
Jessica tells us that it is very important to get the foundations right between the first 8 weeks and 24 months of your puppy’s life. At this stage of your puppy’s development, you will need to focus on core strength, flexibility, balance, building the right muscles to support the joints, as well as having a balanced body. This means having a similar degree of muscle definition across all the muscle groups. We have all seen that guy at the gym, he’s nothing but muscle on the top and he has toothpicks for legs. You know the guy I am talking about. Well, you don’t want your puppy to be the dog version of that guy.
Jessica suggests incorporating equipment which has a variety of textured surfaces. This is great for proprioception and is a key component of neurological development. Start with stable surfaces and move onto surfaces with instability to help build core strength. Focus on full body awareness, let your dog do backup and pivot exercises so that they learn where their limbs are, and how to use them properly and individually.
You will be surprised that by giving your puppy exercises that are challenging, your puppy will actually get tired pretty quickly, even that pup that runs a 10km without losing breath. By adding mental stimulation and challenging your dog regularly you will not only be keeping him physically fit, you will be improving his mental strength too.
If you would like to learn more about the formative months of your puppy’s life and what exercises you can do to improve your puppy’s physical and mental well-being check out Jessica’s Puppy Fitness Program. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.