How Much Exercise Is Too Much for a Puppy?

Puppy Running

After a long day at the beach or a few hours at the dog park, do you ever wonder whether your pup has overdone it?

Maybe you’re raising an athlete — for agility trials, dock diving or duck hunting, for example — and you’ve been told to keep certain activities at a minimum. But what does “minimal” mean? Which kinds of activities should you avoid? How much exercise is too much?

A Wealth of Opinions, Few Clear Answers

As the proud owner of an athletic working dog and an amateur runner looking to help baby work out her energies on anything but my sofa, you can bet I’ve been researching this issue lately. And what I’ve learned may surprise you: Though opinions on this issue abound (indeed, it seems as if every veterinarian, every trainer, every breeder and every owner has an opinion on this one), the truth is that we don’t have all the answers. In fact, we have precious few definitive findings on this particular topic.

What’s up with that, you ask? Aren’t all you veterinarians trained to know how much stress and strain the canine body can take as it’s developing?

Sure, vet school taught us the basics of exercise physiology, but we never got treated to a complete picture of our canine patients’ exercise tolerance — much less our pediatric patients’. There’s just too much to learn about everything else to expect a polished profile of every subject — more so seeing as every issue evolves over time to reflect its newest findings.

And when the topic in question suffers not only from a thin stream of research but also from a dearth of definition on the human side, too, it only makes sense that these puppy questions might reasonably warrant a collective veterinary shrug.

Spreading Alarm on the Internet

Think about it: Mixed opinions on the subject of when it’s best to start seriously training your child for x, y or z sport seem to procreate on the Internet, amplified by mommy blogs and athletic sites and only to mushroom whenever tragedy strikes. (“If only we’d waited, Britney might’ve been an Olympian!”)

Add the Internet fear factor to the well-deserved concern over the higher incidence of developmental orthopedic disorders in large breed dogs and it should come as no surprise that pontification — often the dogmatic kind — flourishes on the subject of pediatric fitness.

Curious? Here’s what you’ll read:

  • No running on hard surfaces
  • No jumping or twisting
  • No playing with other dogs
  • No stick or ball chasing
  • No more than 10 minutes of exercise at a stretch
  • No more than a half-mile walk at a time

And the most common (and commonsensical) veterinary answer:

  • No “forced” exercise until her growth plates close (18-24 months)


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