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How Much Exercise Does Your Puppy Need?

Puppy training in Huntsville, A: and Madison, AL

This is a great question. You ask 10 different dog trainers and get 10 different answers. In general, the correct answer is “it depends”. I know that's not going to appease a lot of people. However, I will give you some variables to help you decide precisely how much exercise your puppy needs and when to determine if they're getting too much exercise or not enough exercise.

When I say exercise, I don't mean just throwing a ball and letting the puppy run around like a goof at a dog park. I mean structured exercise that includes discipline, obedience, mental stimulation, and enrichment. This is the exercise that I'm referring to. This exercise will do a lot more for your puppy than just letting them run around and do nothing just for the physical component. We must always include the mental component in the exercise for it to be most effective.

The first thing you must consider when determining how much exercise your puppy needs is their breed and age. For example, a six-month-old Labrador Retriever will need quite a different amount of exercise from a three-month-old miniature poodle.

We have a Labrador, and we know it's a retriever. We know that they need to be exercised a lot. They are sporting dogs and need to get out and move a lot. In addition, they need to have mental stimulation, and they need to have a job to do. They need to have things that will appease them from a genetic standpoint. Their DNA says that they have got to be focused on things to achieve. That's what retrievers do. Once it's been shot, they go get a bird, retrieve it, and bring it back to the owner. This is their job. Labrador retrievers need jobs.

However, Labrador retrievers don't necessarily need three to four hours of exercise a day, and they don't need high-intensity exercise at six months old. They need structured exercise that's continuous and mindful, like Tai chi and yoga, compared to a Zumba or spinning class for humans. Anything that's going to be that high energy, like a spinning class for a dog, will get them ramped up. I've seen videos of puppies on TikTok on these indoor treadmills inside a van for 30 minutes, and they're absolutely exhausted afterward, and that's great. That's excellent physical exercise for the puppy. It's not mentally stimulating, though. I can tire a puppy more by bringing them on a loose leash. Have them walk with me, sit and wait, lay down, stay, wait a little bit more, and then move again because that mental energy used to do nothing is mostly what Labrador retrievers need.

If a Labrador goes hunting, they will wait until the shot is done. They have to be entirely still. 90% of the time, they're completely still so that the owner can get off the shot of the bird flying up from the brush into the air, and then they get the shot, and then they release the dog from stillness, and then the dog gets the bird and brings it back.

The myth that retrievers have to have continuous exercise is not true because I have seen a lot of clients of mine who have Labrador Retrievers, and they exercise them too much. They leave them at daycare for 12 hours a day. They try to overstimulate them in the backyard. They take them for two-hour walks; it's too much. It gets them ramped up too much, and then they have adrenaline fatigue and get tired and cranky because they haven't had enough sleep.

You have to be careful that you don't give too much physical exercise to puppies, and you give more mental exercise. In addition, puppies are not fully grown until they are between 12 and 24 months old. A Labrador retriever will not be fully grown until 18 to 24 months, meaning they should not be running on concrete. They should not be doing a lot of high impact on their joints because it will stunt their growth. Their joint plates aren't fused yet. You have to be very careful about that.

Now, let's talk about a three-month-old miniature poodle. This is not a hunting dog. Standard poodles can be great hunting dogs, some of the best, but a miniature poodle between 14 and 20 pounds will not be a hunting dog. This is a family dog, a lap dog. The amount of exercise is even less than that of the six-month-old Labrador Retriever.

A three-month-old miniature poodle will need minimal physical exercise. Throwing the ball with them in the house or taking them for a 10-minute walk will be sufficient, but you have to teach them basic obedience: sit down, stay, come, and you have to keep them mentally stimulated.

I just graduated a miniature poodle from my eight-week puppy training program named Boris, and I have another one that will graduate in two more weeks named Remi. They're great dogs, but they're house dogs.

How do you know if your puppy's getting too little or too much exercise? That is a great question, and it's straightforward. Number one, pay attention to the puppy. Notice all of the little things that they're doing. Notice the signs that the puppy is giving you that they need more to do or notice when the puppy is checking out. If the puppy keeps nudging your arm and wants more to do, you have to give them more mental exercise. It doesn't necessarily mean they must go for a long walk. They may need a five or 10-minute enrichment walk with a potty break. The enrichment walk is discussed in detail in my book Leash Training Your Puppy, available on Amazon.

It's your job as the puppy owner to do your due diligence and research the puppy's genetic needs so that you're meeting those needs. In addition, you want to make sure that you're paying close attention to your puppy at all times and looking for signals that they're telling you that they're being overexercised or under-exercised and meet those needs of that puppy immediately.

Finally, when you're giving your puppy physical exercise, make sure there is also mental stimulation, enrichment, and socialization included with that exercise so that your puppy's going to be tired faster, not by the physical activity, but by the mental activity that you're giving them…the mental stimulation. This will make your puppy more tired, and you don't have to jeopardize the puppy's joints and growth plates and things like that and overstimulate them. You always keep the puppy calm, focused, centered, and balanced.


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