Physical and mental exercise is a very important part of dog training at any age. A mentally stimulated pup who also receives the proper physical exercise he needs will be a happy pup.
This article on how I trained my own Rottweiler puppy at home goes hand in hand with exercising your dog. Also, before you start any obedience training, make sure your dog is in the right headspace and capable of what you ask of him.
Let’s jump in and look at a few points that you should take into consideration to safely exercise your puppy.
The Right Type of Exercise
Young puppies have different exercise needs than adult dogs do. Many activities like hiking or riding a bike should be avoided until 12-18 months of age (larger breeds finish growth later than smaller breeds).
It’s best for any puppy to interact with you and other puppies their age. Fun games can be quite simple and tiring out your pup to total exhaustion can take as little as a new location with exciting noises or scents.
It is also important to let your puppy explore the world at his own pace by encouraging self-directed play.
Exploring the World
Puppies are incredibly curious and react intensely to different environmental stimuli. Exploring the outdoors can be very rewarding and satisfying for a young puppy.
If you do not have a backyard, go outside with your puppy to a quiet place and attach a long leash to supervise him. Let him sniff every little leaf and encourage him to look for certain things. Start hiding treats in easy-to-find spots.
While you can and certainly should aim to let him explore, it’s important to have control over your puppy and that means building in a couple of commands from time to time to get the focus back to you, as well as not letting him off-leash until he is trained (alongside a proper release command).
Providing Him with Toys
Chew toys are best for young puppies and most come in different sizes tailored to your dog’s age. Avoid hard plastic toys with sharp edges as they might hurt your puppy’s gums and teeth.
Choose soft toys that don’t have any small pieces that can be chewed off. Provide him with interesting plush toys with different textures for him to explore.
A lot of puppies love their Kong which also provides a great possibility to keep your dog busy when you’re out of the house in order to prevent separation anxiety. Make sure to check out a couple of recipes explaining what to stuff your Kong with.
Playing with Your Dog
While getting to know your puppy or dog, you will quickly learn what he enjoys the most. In regards to playing, your dog might love to fetch a ball or might enjoy a tug of war (my dog loves both).
There is a rule of thumb that you can safely exercise your puppy mentally for 5 minutes twice a day for every month of age. So if your puppy is 6 months old, you can exercise him for 30 minutes twice a day.
DIY Agility Course
A course consisting of different obstacles is a great way to exercise your puppy effectively. They are also excellent socialization tools and teach your pup that it’s safe to walk over different textures and levels and it’s actually a lot of fun.
The PDF guide below will provide you with 5 different DIY obstacles that you can build in your own yard. Just click on the image to download it! Keep in mind to always start small and don’t overexercise your puppy.
Obstacles like the hoop should be kept very close to the ground to not overstrain his growing joints with every jump. Keep it light and fun and encourage your dog to explore new things he has never seen before.
Going Out for Walks
You need to be careful exercising puppies because their joints are not yet connected and excessive walks or playing can cause injuries or problems when they are older.
Some people even split the time of the rule of thumb between walks and training but, to be honest, I often skipped this advice and went ahead for longer walks (nothing crazy though). While your pup is still growing, how is he supposed to build muscle if he’s not exercised enough?
Just make sure that you’re not getting your pup hooked on walking hours per day. He will only demand more as he gets older as well as the damage it might do to his joints.
Every breed is different and I have heard of several dog owners that took their puppies for long hikes and they are now healthy adults, although I’d never bet on it.
It can be okay for high-energy, medium-sized breeds to go for long walks but with heavy breeds like the Rottweiler, you should be really careful because they tend to have joint problems (elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia).
Also, keep in mind that the level of exercise you will give your puppy when he is young will define the energy level later on to a certain degree. So if you train your German Shepherd to go on 3-hour hikes with you every day then he will get used to it and will demand it later on in his life.
When you have a young puppy, your walks should mostly consist of free walking. That means your puppy should be able to experience his environment at his own pace.
Studies have shown that dogs who are able to spend 33% of their walks sniffing on the ground are much more happy and optimistic.
Make sure to start leash-training right away, as this isn’t an afterthought.
Attending Puppy Classes
The best playmates for your puppy are probably other puppies. Puppy play classes are perfect for him to satisfy his needs and to learn the right way to interact with other dogs in his socialization phase.
You can invite some friends over that also have puppies or very playful smaller breeds.
Avoid dog parks with a small puppy as all the dogs are overwhelming for him and he could be run over by larger breeds. Gradually get him used to environments like that with proper positive reinforcement training in this case.
You can also attend early obedience training classes when your puppy is 12 weeks or older (but start your training at home right after bringing your pup home). There you can learn basic training commands in a guided and controlled environment.
Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a great game for dogs at any age. I always play this with my dog especially on rainy days (not her favorite weather) where you still have to get the energy out in another way.
Start by getting your dog into a sit-stay position. Hide somewhere easy in the beginning so your dog won’t lose interest. Then simply call his name and wait for him to find you and reward him. Over time, you can increase the difficulty.
Be careful to not reinforce unwanted behavior like barking or door scratching.
How Much Exercise Is Too Much?
Sadly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to how much exercise is too much. Many people think that larger breeds can go on longer walks because they can tolerate it while small breeds don’t need as much exercise and that sentiment is not always right.
As I said before, large dogs are usually prone to joint issues and too much exercise at a young age might cause problems. You should also take into consideration the energy level of your breed. If you have a high energy breed like a Jack Russel Terrier, you can definitely take him on longer walks than a Great Dane.
Working breeds need more mental stimulation than other breeds and require a type of work they can perform while breeds with short snouts have a hard time breathing when exercised too much.
Vets recommend that very young puppies go on short 15 minute walks with several play sessions a day. Exploring and playing is far more important for a 3-month-old puppy than walking on a leash.
Once your puppy gets older, his exercise needs will change and you will need to go on long walks. Pay attention to your dog – if he starts to lay down or refuses to walk any further, then it might be time to shorten the walk next time.
Strenuous exercises (hiking, agility, jogging) are not suited for young puppies and should be saved for when your dog becomes older.
How to Exercise Your Puppy in the Summer
The summer heat is really hard for many dogs so we want to exercise them safely in hot weather.
Before stepping outside, always check the temperature of the ground with your hand. If it is too hot to lay your hand on it, it will we too hot for your puppy’s sensitive paws.
Generally, we want to avoid exercising our dog in the hottest times of the day. The best times to walk your dog in the summer are in the early morning hours and at night. Pay attention to your dog on walks. If he starts to strongly pant, you probably went for the wrong time or walked him too long.
Try cool exercises like swimming in the pool or into a nearby lake. If you do not have access to any of that, baby pools are a great alternative as they can get their paws wet at the very least.
Always provide your dog with enough water to drink. What I always like to do in the summer is feeding my dog some watermelon. She loves it and it provides her with so much water.
Let me know what exercises your dog prefers the most in the comments below!