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When we first introduce a canine family member into our lives, most of us dream of taking them on long rambling walks and adventures in the countryside or local parks. There is no doubt that this is a real joy of owning a dog, however it is important to remember that your new puppy is only a baby! And like any young animal, their physical abilities are limited. Although they are bundles of energy, over-exercising a puppy or expecting too much in the early weeks and months can cause lasting damage

Until a dog reaches sexual maturity, which varies depending on breed with larger dogs like great dane’s taking longer to mature, their bones are still developing and growing. This makes puppies very vulnerable to injuries, not only to the soft growth plates, but to the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments that are working hard to support the pup’s growing bones! Injuries at this time may not heal properly, causing problems such as early arthritis.

Ratio of 5!

A brown puppy sits on the grass during a dog walk

Learning about bone growth, it can be easy to become panicked and overprotective of your new family member but with some guidance, you can make sure you get it right!

Exercise is vital for puppies, as this is how their bone density will increase. Strong bones means less potential for injuries later in life. A good rule to follow when walking your pup is five minutes of exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) Until the puppy is fully grown. e.g., If a puppy were 3 months old, they could be exercised for 20 minutes twice a day.

Even with this rule, walking should be very relaxed with lots of time for sniffing and exploring the outside world; Puppies brains are developing just as much as their bodies and this early investigation is a vital stage in their development. If your puppy looks tired, seems reluctant to walk or flops down, listen to them and act accordingly!

Play time counts!

Despite their high energy, puppies are very good at knowing their own limits. A puppy’s cardiovascular system is not yet built for endurance and so often short bursts of energy is all they can manage. If you watch a young puppy you might notice them zoom around for a few minutes before flopping down to sleep. Giving your puppy the opportunity to let off some steam and run around on their own terms is therefore really important.

In their first year, most of a puppy’s exercise should be this self-directed play, along with early puppy training and brain games. Although the amount of physical exercise a puppy can do is limited, their brains are like a sponge, so this is a great time to focus on training. Why not try teaching your pup some basic cues or hide some treats around the house or garden for them to sniff out! 

Toys, toys, toys

Although it can be tempting to shower your new puppy with toys and play rough with them, remember that they are only babies and are very fragile! When playing with your puppy, keep any tuggy games gentle and never pull a toy sharply (Necks and backs are just as delicate as legs!). If you are throwing toys such as balls, avoid sharp twists and turns or jumping on and off furniture. It is also important to note that ball throwing should be limited to avoid over exertion and ball-obsessive behaviour later in life.

The best kind of toys are interactive toys that exercise a puppy’s brain as well as their body. Things such as stuffed kongs, puzzle feeders, sniff trails and treasure hunts, where your puppy can use their natural sniffing abilities are great fun!

The first months with your new companion are where you build a relationship and teach them that the world is a fun and safe place to be in. Positive bonds can be made through games, play and gentle handling. There will be plenty of time for ball throwing and long walks in the country later!

This was a guest blog by our colleague Asher. Asher is studying Canine Clinical Behaviour at the University Centre Reaseheath.

Read more over at Canine Arthritis Management.

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