Everybody knows that a dog needs physical exercise.
Seeing dogs on the other end of a leash is a common sight, but do you know what’s often left out?
A mentally stimulated pup who also receives the proper physical exercise he needs will be a happy pup.
While many dog owners are going into the trenches with their pups too soon, they underestimate the required amount of play and mental stimulation they need.
Let’s jump in and look at a few points that you should take into consideration to correctly and safely exercise your puppy.
Puppy Exercise Chart
To make it a little easier, I’ve compiled a chart with all the exercise activities and durations for your pup by age.
A couple of guidelines:
- Young puppies have different exercise needs than adult dogs
- Activities like riding a bike should be avoided until 12-18 months of age (larger breeds finish growth later than smaller breeds)
- Socialization through puppy class is vital
- Consider trips to your local lake or park with your dog in a backpack, bike carrier, or car
- Go heavy on playtime & mental games
- Let your pup sniff his surroundings
- Leash-train early on
While puppies should definitely meet older dogs, playtime with other pups and bonding with you are equally important.
Instead of hammering the walking times into your head, keep in mind what else your pup needs to be happy and a well-rounded dog.
A dog’s brain functions differently than a human’s brain and a trip to your local park or just being able to take in all the fantastic smells is far more exhausting than straight walking.
Let your puppy explore the world at his own pace by encouraging self-directed play.
When To Start Walking a Puppy?
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.
Let’s recall the rule of thumb that says 5 minutes of exercise twice daily per month of age.
Some people even split the rule-of-thumb-time between walks and training.
To be honest, I often skipped this advice and went ahead for longer walks (nothing crazy though).
That being said, when do you actually start walking your pup?
Personally, I started walking my Rottweiler pup at the age of 8 weeks.
Some dog owners start at 12-16 weeks with actual walks and strictly adhere to the rule of thumb.
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.
So, 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.
You’re taking your best buddy German Shepherd to go on 3-hour hikes with you every day at the age of say 6 months?
You’re set up for failure because you can’t increase that, but it can be your dog’s starting point in his adult life.
Joint issues can catch up later in life.
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.
Some high-energy and medium-sized dogs are okay with more exercise as a pup but all Mastiff breeds or breeds with genetic hip dysplasia predispositions should be more careful (same goes for avoiding stairs).
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.
Don’t neglect leash-training though, this isn’t an afterthought and it’s hard to get rid of nasty pulling habits.
How To Play With Your Puppy
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 pup loved both).
Playing not only means getting rid of your pup’s excess energy but also creates a bond with you.
You can bring structure into your sessions by teaching him “let go” or “leave it”.
Toys Are King
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.
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 when I 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.
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.
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.
Don’t just sling the ball until you can’t even see your dog running on the horizon anymore.
Playing fetch is a great way to build impulse control in your dog.
My Rottie was and still is kind of a ball freak. That’s a good thing we can use for training.
Use a stay command. Recall your dog in the middle. Perform a heel. Release.
The ball will be the ultimate reward in this case and it teaches your dog not to frantically chase everything that’s running.
Chasing stuff like a flirt pole should be reserved for adult dogs.
Light flirt pole work is okay, as is chasing balls in a fun way in the garden.
No external push to go and chase should happen though.
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).
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, especially 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.
Signs You’re Over Exercising Your Pup
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 are 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, here are a couple of overexercising signals:
- Refusal to walk any further
- Excessive panting
- Puppy limping
- Reluctance to go outside
- Exhausted to the point your pup refuses water/meals
Keep in mind that all these signs can point towards medical issues or fear issues too.
Strenuous exercises (hiking, agility, jogging) are not suited for young puppies and should be saved for when your dog becomes older.
Puppy Exercise After Eating
Exercising your pup immediately after a meal can cause bloat or other digestive issues/vomiting.
To be safe, it’s best to wait at least an hour until exercising your pup.
Also if you don’t like vomit on your car seats, feed your pup long before stepping inside the car to go to your puppy class.
I know the struggle. It’s Saturday and you wake up pretty early because that’s when puppy class starts.
You quickly feed the pup and bolt out of the door.
Don’t do that, honestly. It’s not good for you or the pup.
How Do You Exercise a Puppy when it’s Hot?
The summer heat is really hard for many adult dogs and while puppies can try to keep up until exhaustion, it can get pretty dangerous.
If you want to walk your regular route with your pup, make sure of the following:
- Before stepping outside, always check the temperature of the ground with your hand. Too hot to lay your hand on the concrete for 10 seconds? Then it’s too hot for your puppy’s sensitive paws.
- Avoid exercising your dog in the hottest times of the day (go early in the morning or late in the evening instead).
- Pay attention to your puppies’ signs like heavy breathing.
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 much-needed hydration.
Try exercising by swimming in the pool or 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.
If all else fails and it’s really hot, just relax inside and play with your pup.
Invite a playmate if possible.
Exercising Puppy in Winter
If you’re living in a colder climate or have a particularly harsh winter, exercising your pup can be a real challenge.
Read this article to find out what is too cold for your dog.
Breeds with thick double coats or large dogs, in general, are more hardened when it comes to temperatures.
However, if you have a hairless breed, a small breed, or just a very sensitive dog, buy them a doggy coat and/or dog boots.
Puppies in general often overestimate themselves, make sure you don’t leave your dog exposed to the cold for too long even if it seems like everything is okay.
Let me know what exercises your dog prefers the most in the comments below!