Keeping your puppy fit and healthy

Did you realise that keeping your puppy fit and healthy is all about the appropriate exercise for their breed and age group?

Exercise is great for your puppy as it not only builds their bodies but it stimulates and builds their minds.  I have recently become more aware of the really important role that exercise provides in brain growth and improving learning, memory and emotional response.   However exercise that is inappropriate for the puppy’s age and development can cause serious damage.  Simple sprains that in an adult are recoverable can leave pups with long-term damage.


Why is this?

Puppies are growing and the development of their bones is dependent on growth plates that occur at the ends of the long bones.  These growth plates do not normally complete their development until the animal is about 18 months old.  Until that development is completed those plates are soft and vulnerable to injury.  Once the plates are calcified and the rapid growth end the plate becomes a stable inactive part of the bone.

The other factors affecting puppy bones are the soft tissue elements of muscles, tendons and ligaments.  In adults a stressed joint will result in the soft tissue being pulled and a strain occurs.  In a puppy the muscles, ligaments and tendons are stronger than the growth plates so instead of a simple sprain the growth plate is liable to be injured.  This matters greatly as the plate may not heal properly or in time for the pup to grow up straight and strong.  

Puppies’ bones are also softer and just like people they don’t reach maximum bone density until after puberty.  Spiral fractures can be very common in puppies as is also an injury that can occur in humans – known as a Toddler’s fracture.


So what can be done to help puppy develop well and get appropriate exercise?

  1. The majority of puppy exercise should be free play, exploring and pottering around.  If tired and refusing to move listen to them and let them rest.  They do not have the endurance and that won’t alter with increasing exercise.  Let them grow.
  2. Don’t be afraid to exercise appropriately.  This is needed to help develop strong healthy bones.
  3. Don’t try too much repetitive exercise. Until about 18 months lots of free play sessions are perfect.  No long hikes or walks.  Short rambling walks are perfect.  Let them sniff around, explore and take it at their own pace.  
  4. Break up these rambling walks with some work on heeling and loose leash walking but keep most of it at the pup’s pace.  
  5. Short hikes are great socialising for pups under 12 weeks (in a safe environment) and for older pups.  Too long and you will be carrying puppy!
  6. Make up a kibble trail – walk along your backyard (curves etc) and drop treats every foot or so.  This gives some mental as well as physical exercise.
  7. Find a playmate for puppy – size appropriate – not too big and boisterous for a small pup – giant breeds can be gentle but watch carefully for any overly physical play.
  8. Jumping off beds and couches is high impact and better discouraged until youngsters are much older.
  9. Try not to have them climbing stairs daily before they are 3 months old.  A ramp can be helpful.   One or two steps is not a significant risk and helps them coordinate footwork.
  10. Off leash, self-directed exercise on gently rolling and varied moderately soft ground is ideal.  Best after 12 weeks also.  
  11. Keep tug toys low and steady – don’t pull up or back on pup’s neck – let them pull rather than you tugging.
  12. Don’t worry about wearing your puppy out because the exercise sessions are short – 15 mins of problem solving and training will tire them adequately.

Reference: The Learning Centre at

The Puppy Fitness Exercise Guidelines from Jane Killion are provided with all Weblyn puppies sold.