I’ve read conflicting advice about the amount of exercise to give a puppy for optimal joint care. A vet has advised that puppy owners should exercise their puppies as much as possible, while a behaviourist has advised the ‘five minutes per month of age’ rule of thumb. Which is it? Or does it depend on the dog?
Wolfgang Dohne advises…
Exercise in general is good, but there can be too much of a ‘good’ thing, especially for puppies. Young dogs have much softer bones and a lot of exercise, especially in puppies of fast growing, larger breeds can lead to microscopic lesions in the developing bone underneath the joint cartilage, which then results in cartilage defects. These in turn – even if a dog has received surgery to repair these – will unavoidably lead to various forms of arthritis later in life. The risk of this is even higher in puppies with a family history of these defects or in obese puppies (the largest puppies of a litter are more likely to be affected). The five-minute rule you mentioned is indeed a rough guide and I like it, but it also depends on the form of exercise. In the first three months in the life of a puppy, let them just do their thing and they will know when – and if – they want to play.
At between three and six months of age, focus on short (not more than 15 minutes at a time) periods of play and/or obedience work without any running. This can be extended to 30 minutes or more with dogs older than six months and can include shorter periods of running with your dog, if he is a medium-sized or smaller breed that is not commonly at risk of joint disease and cartilage defects (for example, Border Collies, Cocker Spaniels and Schnauzers). A combination of running, walking and periods of rest are generally best. For running over longer distances, such as taking your dog for an hour-long walk to the mountains or letting him run alongside your bicycle, I would always wait until a dog is a year old or even 15-18 months in larger breeds.