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Exercise and Your New Puppy

July 19, 2013

Bendites are very active and they want their new puppy to be as active. We all want to run and bike and hike through the countryside with our new puppy. However we must temper our enthusiasm with the knowledge that they are young and their bones and joints are not fully developed.

Healthy physical activity is part of the process of growing into an adult dog. Proper bone and joint development requires a certain amount of activity and stress on connective tissues, but the wrong kind can cause long-term damage to those tender joints and bones — especially where large and giant-breed canines are concerned. When puppies grow their bodies constantly remodel bones and joints. To allow for all the changes, the bones and cartilage are soft and contain many blood vessels. This young tissue is resilient but prone to trauma and stress. Cartilage especially has limited regenerative capability and can be damaged by shock associated with excessive exercise. If the damage is not repaired, normal growth is disrupted. Inherited conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia and OCD can be worsened by too much exercise at too early of an age.

A recent study showed that puppies from birth to three months of age who walked on stairs had an increased risk for developing hip dysplasia. Puppies with off-leash exercise during the same age range had a decreased risk.

Moderation is key.

Start slow and work up. Leash-walking and free play are excellent. Avoid heavy or extended activity on inclines and hills. Also avoid “forced exercise.” 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 is fine. Running around with adult dogs, meanwhile, can be harmful (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 also considered forced exercise.

Agility training is another popular activity in Bend which can have an adverse effect on a puppy’s development. Hold off on any jump training, pole weaving or any contact (climbing) obstacles until the growth plates are closed.

Growth plate closure in small and medium breed dogs occurs around 8 to 10 months of age. In large breed dogs, it’s typical around 12 months and up to 15 months for giant breeds.

It is best to wait from two to four months after growth plate closure to begin an exercise program. You may slowly over two-month periods increase activity levels until adult exercise levels are attained.

Watch for signs of joint pain such as limping, abnormal gait or reluctance to exercise. Waiting until your new puppy is the proper age will allow you to enjoy many more years of exercising with your trusted companion by allowing adequate skeletal development.

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