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Beagle puppies running together in a field.
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New puppies are curious, cuddly creatures. Full of energy, they sniff, paw, and gnaw at anything that catches their eye. When they’re not dissecting something they shouldn’t, pups either plop down in the middle of a room to take a nap or run circles around the furniture with your favorite slipper. How much more mental and physical exercise do they need with all this activity?

Exercise is essential for physical and mental health, but only the right kind in the right amount for the right breed at the right time. Puppies and dogs need different levels of exercise, and a good guide is reassuring your puppy that new experiences are fun. At the same time, it’s important to tailor your puppy’s mental and physical exercise to their age, breed, and daily schedule.

Start With the Basics

But before taking your pup on any outings, you’ll need to gradually introduce them to a leash or a harness. Walking politely without pulling you down the street is a life skill best learned at a young age. If you have a strong-willed, large, or giant breed dog, good walking manners will make outings so much easier.

Vizsla puppy standing in a field.
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Depending on your technique and the puppy’s willingness to follow your lead, this lesson can seem more than enough exercise for both of you. To many puppies, a leash or a harness feels too constricting. They’ll sit down because it feels safer, or try running in the opposite direction. Resist the urge to pull or jerk the leash in your direction. Stand perfectly still until the puppy returns to you. Offering a few treats to let your puppy know what you expect helps.

Your patience, a sense of humor, and plenty of treats are handy here. For the best success, take a few steps and entice your puppy to follow you with a treat or two. At first, you may only be able to take one or two steps with your puppy by your side. That’s OK. You’re building your puppy’s confidence.

Keep your leash training sessions positive and limit them to five or 10 minutes. Some puppies adapt to walking on a leash more quickly than others, but with consistency, they eventually figure it out.

Walk, Don’t Run

When your puppy can walk more than a few steps without going off in another direction, it’s time to begin walking. Veterinary researchers recommend that puppies can go for walks for about five minutes multiplied by every month of their age, once or  twice a day, depending on speed of walk and how much time you have available. The best surfaces are grass and packed sand to get started. The best time to take your puppy or adult dog for a walk is at least an hour after a meal. The time to digest food is crucial to absorbing the vitamins and nutrients in the meal.

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Hold off on jogging or running with your puppy on a leash until it’s mature. For smaller breeds, this is about 6 to 8 months; medium breeds 12 months; large breeds 12 to 18 months; and giant breeds 18 to 24 months old. A puppy’s growing bones and ligaments need to mature and develop correctly. The soft plates on bones need time to harden. Too much sustained vigorous exercise before this age may lead to musculoskeletal malformations later on, especially if you’re constantly running on hard surfaces, such as sidewalks or blacktops. If you do choose to take your puppy along on a run, remember to start slowly and build up their tolerance to physical activity over time.

When tethered to a leash, a puppy doesn’t have the option to stop. Remember, the best exercise for puppies is safely free running. If you have access to a fenced yard, allow your pup to wander freely, choosing their speed and direction, but don’t leave them unsupervised. She will naturally regulate her activity, going fast when she wants to and slowing down when she gets tired.

If you don’t have a fenced yard, let your pup play on a long line of around 15 feet for young puppies in a safe space. Hold the end of the line while they plays, keeping it slack as much as possible. It’s okay if your puppy runs or chases a ball on their own. They know when they’re tired and need to rest, so they’ll play at their own pace.

Consider Breed and Size

“The amount and type of physical exercise a puppy needs will vary depending on the individual dog as well as its size and breed,” says Laurie C. Williams, BA CCUI CDTI, Owner and Director of Training and Behavior at Pup ‘N Iron Canine Enrichment Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

According to Williams, a four-pound Maltese puppy has different needs than a four-pound Golden Retriever. Active and energetic breeds need more exercise than easy-going breeds.

When starting out on a walk, watch your puppy for any signs of fatigue, such as sitting down or struggling to keep up. If your puppy is small enough, try picking them up and carrying them home. Some people also opt to take a doggy stroller along on walks.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje puppy outdoors with a toy in its mouth.
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For some puppies, fast walking tires them out too quickly. As long as your puppy doesn’t want to stop and sniff every blade of grass along the route, let your puppy set the pace. Choose routes that expose your puppy to different surfaces, such as grass, sand, or soft gravel. Until your puppy’s paws are accustomed to concrete surfaces, resist walking on sidewalks, as these can injure their feet.

Restrict repeated jumping exercises like tossing a ball straight up into the air or dock diving, which can injure a puppy’s back. Once your puppy is fully mature, you can introduce these activities.

Games to Play With Your Puppy

“When choosing the activity, I encourage my students to look beyond a walk to other forms of physical activities that provide more enrichment,” Williams says. “These can include tugging at a toy with you, playing hide-and-seek, chasing a flirt pole, or playing tag.”

Williams suggests taking your puppy on a “sniffari.” Here, puppies are encouraged to find pieces of kibble tossed out in the yard. “This can provide more enrichment and be more fun than going on the same walk through the neighborhood day after day,” she says.

Miniature Poodle puppy chewing on a pink ball.
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Regarding mental exercise, she recommends playing and exposing your puppy to interactive brain games. These can include completing a task, or learning a new skill, such as a food puzzle, or mastering a new trick. “Use a scavenger box to hide treats in an egg carton, a rolled-up dish towel, or crumpled paper for the puppy to search through and find,” Williams says.

Puppies grow quickly, so the time you spend early on to provide physical and mental exercise early on will enrich their lives into adulthood and beyond.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.
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