Exercise Guidelines for puppies

Because a puppy’s growth plates have not yet closed, we have to be so careful about how much exercise and what type of exercise they are getting. We must focus on low-impact and avoid stairs outside of short training sessions.

A good rule of thumb is to keep them from jumping heights that are higher than their elbow until they are fully developed (8-18 months of age, depending on size). 

Walks are just fine. Take your time and let them do lots of investigating and sniffing and noodling around. I would not take them on an hour-long hike or running/jogging/cycling just yet, however! It’s more important to focus on socialisation – the experience rather than the distance. Alternate between sidewalk and grass, keeping on softer surfaces as much as possible. 

Running during play (short bursts) is no problem, but let’s not encourage it too much at this age. When they are full developed, you can consider sports and higher-impact activities.

Avoid allowing them to do more than 1-2 stairs. Beyond that, carry them. Never let them do stairs unattended. 

Swimming is a great low-impact activity but you must ensure they are wearing a life-jacket. Just like children! Until they are over 6mo of age, simply wading in shallow water as they please is just enough. No deep-water swimming or diving. Let your puppy investigate at their own pace, attached to a long line or retractable leash – never off-leash. A strong tide can pull the puppy out and away. Never force a puppy to interact with water, and certainly do not carry them out and make them swim back to shore – this is a sure-fire way to create a negative experience and traumatise a puppy for life. 

Chasing balls, toys, tugs, and lures – this is always entertaining for us, but it can become intense, fast. Short distances and short periods interspersed with rest breaks. We do not want to build their endurance for fetch-style games at this age. 

Tug  is a great way to play with a dog, but remember that they are extraordinarily delicate right now. Their jaws strong enough to play against us, their teeth are temporary puppy teeth, and their necks are very, very delicate. If they do want to play tug, keep the toy low, aligned with the height of their neck, and do not tug – simply hold, and let them tug. Allow them to win 80% of the time.

Roughhousing is something we often love to do with our dogs, but this is not the age where we want to introduce that. We want to teach them appropriate play first. Playing with hands, biting and nipping, these are things we want to limit and discourage, so don’t allow anyone to roughhouse with your puppy.

Play with other puppies is paramount. Puppies need to learn how to play with other dogs – this is a skill that doesn’t always come naturally and it certainly cannot be taught by us. Enlisting in a positive reinforcement-based training school that offers controlled early puppy socialisation classes is key, even before the second set of shots, as long as they have precautions in place (sterilised floor, vetted puppies, qualified instructors, and controlled playgroups based on size and playstyle). 

NO DOG PARKS. Yes, I’m serious. Dog parks are Russian Roulette and not a safe place for puppies. It’s too easy for a puppy to be barrelled into, bowled over, nipped, pinned, frightened, or even bitten. The trauma that can occur may seem small to us, but during this critical socialisation period, our job is to ensure 100% positive interactions. Yes. 100%. We need to emotionally bubble-wrap our puppies. This doesn’t mean that we avoid exposure – we carefully plan and execute exposure while creating fabulous associations using food. Ka-ching!