Pets: Where puppies are concerned, how much exercise is too much?
flickr photo by robstephaustralia
There is one resounding querie that I get from those sharing life with a new puppy: "Am I exercising my puppy too much?"
Generally speaking, chances are, no. I can pretty much guarantee that your puppy will wear you out before that can happen.
But note that I said "generally speaking."
The problem is too many people willing to give their unqualified opinions about what's best for puppy, and far more willing to sell "equipment" that is touted as a way to build a strong body.
I have heard many an unqualified person or pet store clerk offer cringeworthy advice to a green puppy owner about the proper care of their weeks-old furry family member, and I am not afraid to interject into the conversation: Make truly educated decisions about these issues, and you won't be sorry. If you do, you and your dog will be, no doubt — and the damage can be irreversible.
I ran across a piece last week that really brought the topic of exercise and puppies back into focus, and I thought that it deserved some definite attention as so many of you have puppies.
The fact is, puppy's bodies grow, and sometimes fast. I can remember when Gretchen was a puppy. I was a ravenous photographer of my four-legged friend and had a series of photos that remind me of how fast she grew. I recently found a slip of paper that was tucked away on which I jotted down her weight in those early weeks.
Gretchen's legs (and along with them, her joints) were changing fast. I remember those stubby, uncoordinated legs that would change into gangly, long ones, almost overnight.
And along with her expected (and unexpected) growth, was her accompanying weight gain. From 20-21 weeks, she gained 11 pounds. Our vet said, "Yep, that happens! It's a growth spurt!"
My point is, that there is a lot going on physically, mentally and hormonally in those first few months, especially between four to eight months, and the skeletal system is a primary area.
Healthy physical activity is part of the process of growing into an adult dog, but the wrong kind can cause long-term damage to those tender joints and bones — especially where large and giant-breed canines are concerned.
Case in point: Too much exercise and the wrong kind of activity.
This is referred to as what us pros call "forced exercise."
So, how much is too much?
As Dr. Vivian Carroll states in her post on her blog, 'Purely Puppy':
Forced exercise is defined as "anything beyond what the dog would engage in with dogs of the same age." Gentle play time with other like aged puppies? A-OK. Running around with adult dogs, meanwhile, is bad (the puppy will overdo it trying to keep up with the big guys). Fence-running, excessive ball/stick/Frisbee chasing, and jogging with the owner are considered "forced exercise," too. (Does the concept of doggie "forced exercise" bring to mind little army puppies in camo gear doing forced "boot camp" runs with little rifles over their heads, or is it just me?)
How many of us have silently wondered about what is "too much"? I certainly did as a new puppy guardian. (Though, I worried about if her boundless energy would be too much for me!)
I recall running into people who would give advice, all of those years ago, mostly unsolicited, about how to grow my pup. I worried about long-term problems that some of those suggestions would lead to, not limited to behavioral ones, like an angular limb deformity (often caused by trauma to the growth plate in the bones), elbow dysplasia and Osteochondritis Dessicans, (OCD).
And there are folks who spout the old adage "A tired dog is a well-behaved dog," and while there is some some truth to it, there need to be mindful limits, no matter what the age. Tons of exercise will not "cure" a dog of a behavioral challenge he faces.
As for puppies, they get into mischief regardless of how tired they might get at times; it's just part of growing up puppy. Nothing cures that, besides experiential wisdom!
Other people want to jog — or even run with their puppy at a young age for various reasons.
This, too can cause serious problems for those little bodies.
Agility is one of those activities that has caught on in popularity and one that many professionals are on the fence about. Some say get involved around 12-14 weeks old, although what that really means exactly is unclear.
One thing is clear: Joni L. Freshman, a clinician and agility expert notes that there shouldn't be "any jumping training, any weave poles or any contact (climbing) obstacles until the growth plates are closed as well."
So, in large breed dogs, it's typical for the growth plates close around 12 months. According to VIN's Medical FAQ Exercising Puppies, "waiting until these dogs are 12-15 months old [will] allow the owner to enjoy many more years of exercising with their pets by allowing adequate skeletal development."
That's makes good sense.
Speaking of growth plates and joints, another irksome topic comes up: Weighted vests.
I have seen them for sale in the Ann Arbor area, but if the concept seems counter-productive to you, you're right. Consisting of a durable material that is fitted with pockets to add weights to, or in some cases, water bottles, these products just spell problems for puppies (and adult dogs, but that's another matter). Adding weight to bones and joints will certainly cause problems that you can't undo, and they really don't need it.
There's certainly nothing wrong with moderate exercise and normal puppy play, but overdoing things regularly in hopes of building a strong dog is a road to trouble.