Owners often ask me what activities are ok for very young dogs. The best answer is ‘use your common sense’. If a human baby/toddler shouldn’t do an activity then your puppy shouldn’t do it either.
If you ask 10 professionals about what you should do you’re likely to get up to 10 different answers. Different breeds grow and develop at different rates and there isn’t much research on what is/isn’t safe for puppies. I live with border collies and I’m going to describe what I do with my puppies…
When puppies join our family the stair gates go up. Increased load on the front legs as young dogs run down the stairs can damage developing bones and joints. Our dogs sleep in the bedroom and we carry them on the stairs until they are too big. Between 10 – 18 months our puppies go upstairs once in the evening and down the stairs in the morning. When puppies are 18 months the stair gates are removed but racing on the stairs is still not allowed. It is not safe for joints and being taken out by 20kg of Hudson is not fun!
At home we have non-slip flooring so immature muscles and ligaments won’t be over stretched causing damage to developing joints. When young animals are born their bones don’t have all the fully formed joints that an adults bones do. The shape of the joints develop as different forces act on the bones. If a puppies muscles or ligaments are damaged then conditions like hip dysplasia become more common.
Young dogs in our house have regular, sensible exercise. There are rough guidelines available which recommend walking your dog 5min per month of their age. A 3 month old dog would have a 15min walk, a 6 month old would have a 30 min walk. There is no evidence for this but it is a sensible amount, easy to work out and easy to remember. Walking with your dogs in different environments and on different surfaces is great for their physical development. 15min a day for a 12 week old puppy is better than no weekday walks and a 60min weekend walk. A 10 mile walk with a 3 year old toddler is not ok; just because a puppy will do a 60 min walk doesn’t mean they should!
My dogs love to play, watching older dogs teach the younger dogs how to play is lovely. If you do squats and keep going until the point of fatigue you start to move badly. Eventually you will hurt yourself because you can’t control your movement properly. Tiring puppies find it hard to judge when they should stop, especially if playing with exciting older buddies. Your puppy should be able to play with their housemates but you need to decide when play stops; play should stop before your puppy gets tired so they don’t get injured.
Equally matched play between dogs is perfect. A 5kg puppy playing with a 20kg grown up dog is fine if the 20kg dog is gentle and sensible. A 5kg puppy playing with a 5kg adult hooligan is not fine. The puppies muscles and joints are immature and not an equal match for an adult dog.
If it sounds like growing up with a Physio is fun free hopefully I can convince you that’s not true. As dogs are growing they need sensible exercise when their tendons, ligament, muscles and joints are developing. There is evidence that young animals allowed to run and play outside each day have fewer injuries as adults. My dogs get to run around the garden with me or a sensible companion regularly throughout the day. They get a walk in a different place each day. My puppies get to do exercises that help them work out where their legs are. Puppies begin foundation agility and obedience training when they come home. My advice would be – enjoy your puppies and allow them to develop and get strong but protect their growing joints.