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Chocolate Labrador retriever puppy running outdoors with a stuffed toy in its mouth.
Aly Tyler/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Across the nation, millions of spry, young puppies are aging into unhealthy dogs. Some studies suggest as many as 50 million American pooches could be classified as overweight or obese. Those extra pounds don’t just slow dogs down. Excess weight can lead to health conditions that can shorten dogs’ lives and dramatically reduce their standard of living.

While it’s possible to whip a dog back into shape with a workout regime (in partnership with your veterinarian), it’s always advisable to promote healthy habits from an early age. At the same time, overexertion can lead to illness and injury in growing puppies. Finding the appropriate balance of play and rest is key for building a healthy relationship with a healthy dog.

Exercising With Your Puppy

Varying you and your dog’s play and exercise routine will keep them enthusiastic and help facilitate bonding, but consistency is key for developing a routine and avoiding overexertion. Puppy owners should not rapidly change the length or intensity of exercise periods, for example. A sudden, ill-planned workout or extra-long walk could mean fatigue and potentially life-changing injuries for a dog who hasn’t reached full maturity. Since different breeds age differently, dog owners are advised to do their research before acquiring a puppy.

Beagle puppy on leash walking in the grass.
©Peter Kirillov -

Playing games with puppies often provides valuable teaching opportunities. Tug-of-war, for example, can be useful in teaching dogs how to refocus when they’re excited and can help reinforce good habits like learning to “drop” or “give” objects on cue.

More Benefits of Exercising With Your Puppy

In addition to helping your puppy avoid weight gain, healthy amounts of exercise and playtime can help reduce anxiety and stress. The mood-boosting powers of physical activity will leave your dog feeling more content and can discourage destructive habits like inappropriate elimination or chewing on furniture.

Playing and exercising with puppies pays off for dog owners too. Scientific evidence supports the therapeutic benefits of bonding with animals, and getting more active is always easier and more fun with a partner. Just be sure to keep your sessions age-appropriate as your puppy matures.

How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

Your puppy’s exercise needs are as unique as they are. Too much exercise could injure their developing bones and tendons, and too little activity risks stifling that development in the first place. As a general rule of thumb, experts encourage puppy owners to favor short periods of exercise in controlled environments. . If an older dog with more stamina is causing your puppy to overexert themselves, consider separating them in structured schedules and introducing rest periods.

Mental Workouts for Your Puppy

When it comes to your puppy’s health and well-being, physical exercise is just one piece of the puzzle. Puppies require mental stimulation as well. Anyone who has had to share their home office with a pet may have learned this the hard way. Stimulation from tools like a puzzle toy, food-stuffed chew toy, or a snuffle mat can keep them engaged and out of your hair during crucial meetings and calls.

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These tools can promote cognitive development much the same way playing in the yard promotes healthy joints and bones. You can even make your own with common household items.

For hands-on mental stimulation, try making a game out of mealtime. Hiding treats or food will encourage puppies to work for their meals (burning calories along the way) while strengthening their minds.

Your Partner in Pet Care

Throughout your dog’s puppyhood and into their adult years, your veterinarian will serve as both an asset and an ally. Regular wellness visits will help ensure your pet is growing and gaining weight at a normal rate, so you can adjust their diet and exercise regimen accordingly. Switching to adult food ahead of schedule can lead to weight gain and a host of additional digestive concerns. When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian.
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