Exercising Your Young Pup

October 14, 2011

I saw a sight today when out in my garden that disturbed me a little, and thought I should put something down about my concerns. What I saw that perturbed me was a person striding briskly along the tar road next to my house with a young Labrador retriever on a leash walking beside her. The dog couldn’t have been more than 4 months or so – definitely half the size of your average full-grown lab. I don’t know how far they had walked, but I waited around in my garden for about 15 minutes in the hope that she would return past my house, but this didn’t happen. This meant that the pup was being walked at this pace, I assume, for longer than 15 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong – I am a firm believer in exercise and proper nutrition for a growing puppy, but the exercise must be appropriate for the age of the pup. A puppy’s bones are soft and spongy. They don’t completely harden until the puppy is 18 months to 2 years depending on the breed. Any high jumping and jumping out of things like trucks should be discouraged. The stress on soft bones, underdeveloped muscles and immature ligaments can create damage–maybe life-long issues.
However, having said that I believe that most puppies are under-exercised in the belief that too much exercise will damage their joints. Puppies can and must be exercised, but this must be appropriate exercise that is going to benefit the growing skeleton and not damage it. Research on humans has shown that high correlations exist between muscle mass and skeletal mass in exercising subjects, even in those who are in their growth periods. Surely this must apply to young dogs as well.
So, what is appropriate exercise? I believe that a “forced march” on a hard surface is inappropriate. I would rather see a pup accompanying its owner on a walk through a park or forest trail off-lead with the pup setting its own pace. I think a pup should be allowed to stop and sniff at interesting smells and explore the world around him. Puppies that are allowed to do this will benefit far more than pups that are walked on leash along a road. Beside the exercise benefits there is the bonding issue. I find it difficult to believe that a puppy who is marched along beside its owner until it is simply putting one foot in front of the other bonds with the owner to the same extent as a pup who has a strenuous interactive play session with its owner.
I also believe that the pup’s mind should be engaged; that he should be taught to be aware of ALL his body – not only his legs; spinning, weaving, walking backwards, walking up and down stairs, swimming. These are all activities that your pup will enjoy and that will prepare him for a life of health and well-being.

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