Updated: Jun 13
For those of you that join us on our free monthly Cani Talks, you would have heard a lot of cool information recently about appropriate exercise, but it's such a baffling topic for many, not only because of the variety of information offered, but also because of what we humans consider enjoyable for our pups and dogs.
Appropriate exercise it actually important to consider for any age of dog, from puppies through to pensioners, as none of these developmental stages will be alike in their requirments and will require constant rethinking.
However, for this article, I am going to focus mainly on the young, so thats puppies and adolescent dogs. So let's go straight in with the big statement most of us have heard, 5 minutes of exercise for every month of the dog's age, and is it true? Bluntly put, no, not really!
So firstly, I want to discuss why it's important not to allow your puppy to overdo it. As you can see in the picture below, puppies' and young adolescent dogs' bodies are not developed properly, they have large gaps in their skeletal system called growth plates. Over-exercise can affect the development of a young dog's growth plates ( the areas of cartilage at the ends of the leg bones). If injury or damage to the growth plates occur, it can cause deformities and have problems healing. This may affect the pup's movement for the rest of their life and possibly cause lifelong pain.
So what should we be doing with our puppies so that they are getting enough stimulation but without putting stress on those little bodies? Well, it's not really about the time you are out with your puppy, but more about the type of activity you are doing with your puppy.
Physical exhaustion should not be a constant solution to gain some respite from the puppy or active young dog, this can cause both physical damage and physiological damage. Constant exhaustion is not what even the most active of dogs consistently want, even though they may struggle to relax when not exhausted, this actually creates more issues in the long run! Going for a walk is not a dog thing, its a human thing. Dogs are naturally free roaming animals, they spend vast amounts of their day mooching, foraging, sniffing, digging and sleeping to name just a few actitvies. Yes, we have bred dogs to be more active for longer periods, but that doesnt mean that is all they have to ever do! Our Domestic Dogs are confined, only allowed out when we take them out, its no wonder so many dogs are already pumped and excitable before we even make it out the door. Humans LOVE a route, even if we are restriced for time, we do that route, that usually means walking faster and hurrying the dog up,stopping and sniffing opportunities are greatly reduced in the hurry to get back!.
Our puppies time out should be varied, variety not only offers mental benefits but activities like slow walking or mooching, as I call it, actually means they engage core muscles. Without good, strong, core muscles, the bigger muscles take over and that can lead to muscle injuries. We want a young dog to build core strength to prevent bigger muscles taking up the slack and that leading to possible injuries.
A puppy can be out for longer than 5 minutes if you are sitting on a park bench watching the world go by, or stood on one bit of grass for 15 minutes just taking in all the wonderful smells. If your pup has been on a longline constantly running around as you pratice recall for 4 minutes at the age of 12- 14 weeks then I would making sure I wasnt far from home and a rest or very slow walk back would be a good idea. If our puppy has been out slow walking and sniffing for 15 minutes great! I share my life with 13 dogs, I have working Siberians Huskies that are a competing sled dog team. Does that mean all our activity levels are fast running and pulling, no, not at all. We mix our activity levels up, some of our best walks consist of covering less than 200m in over 20 minutes because we mooch super slowly and treat search, they are so chilled and relaxed during a slow walk its a real joy. We need to stop our frog marching routes and instead be varying our dogs exercise, sometimes on street walking, sometimes free running time, sometimes a slow walk, and sometimes just going out for a good old treat search or sit on a park bench chilling.
Without variety you may end up a dog that rquires more exteded periods of exercise to be exhausted and very often dogs that is over aroused when outside. They pull on the lead and may have little interest in the person walking them. When disussing time frames we also need to mention other varients such as the breed of the dog, weather conditions, and even the dogs behaviour may affect the duration of appropriate exercise. Being out for long periods of time if your puppy is scared or struggles with arousal can be more of a negative then a positive experince.
To sum this up, just as with almost everything in life and dogs, there is no one cap fits all rule or solution, we need to offer variety but in a way that doesnt cause stress to our dogs. If you are worried about how your dog feels when they are out then seek the help of a reputable Trainer or Behvaiourist.