Your new puppy is a ball of energy, full of beans. Puppies are incredibly lively and fun, but puppy exercise is about much more than just running around. At that age, everything your little dog encounters is something new, a fresh adventure. Here’s what you need to know about making the most of puppy exercise and play.
The importance of puppy exercise
As a general rule, a bored dog is an unhappy dog. As well as meeting their physical, intellectual and emotional needs, puppy exercise and play are a great way for them to learn about the world around them and the creatures that live in it. It’s also the perfect way for you and your new puppy to get to know each other and seal a lifetime’s loving relationship. The right level and type of puppy exercise and play will keep your dog healthy, happy and mentally stimulated.
Regular, fun exercise and puppy play prevents obesity, improves heart health and strengthens the muscles. Regular walks help them to learn house training and a happily tired dog will feel your absence less if you need to pop out without them. They suffer fewer behavioural problems and enjoy better agility, are more confident and trust humans more. And lots of lovely running around improves your puppy’s levels of socialisation with other people and dogs.
Puppy play and exercise helps stop puppies being restless and hyperactive, chewing and digging, barking and scratching. It helps stop them jumping on furniture and people, engaging in rough play and biting, and even helps prevent unwanted barking and whining.
Puppy exercise basics
- Puppies don’t enjoy exercising alone. They like company
- Make sure they’ve had all the appropriate vaccinations before taking them on their first proper outdoor walk
- Some breeds like bulldogs, boxers and pugs easily run out of breath. They need shorter, more frequent walks
- Make sure the exercise is appropriate for a young dog – not too much, not too little. You’ll soon learn how soon your pup gets tired. Too much exercise can exhaust them and leave them with joint damage for life
- Set off steadily. If you start off too fast your puppy will get tired very quickly
- If your puppy shows tiredness, lies down or refuses to walk, listen to them – they’ve tired themselves out
- Walking and gentle jogging are great when they get a little older, but puppies also love to play games at home – more about that later
- Puppies are most active in the mornings and evenings. The perfect times for puppy exercise is before they eat, morning and evening
- Dogs love routine – if the weather is horrible, take a short walk but never skip a walk altogether
When can you start to puppy exercise?
Self-directed puppy play is really important when dogs are less than 18 months old, where they just wander around doing their own thing and exploring their world. Long walks are no good because it can damage their health for life if they over-do it.
Until a puppy is four months old, it’s better to simply play together than take him or her on actual walks. Playing in the park or somewhere else safe in public is great because it means they can socialise with other dogs and people.
What sort of puppy exercise should I do?
While every breed and dog are different, every dog deserves at least two walks a day. You can increase the amount of exercise for puppies by five minutes a month, walking them twice a day. A four month old puppy, for example, will enjoy 20 minutes of exercise each day, at least twice a day, increasing to 25 minutes per session at five months of age.
How to walk a puppy
Start off walking around your garden where it’s safe and quiet. This is a great way for them to gradually learn what their home territory smells like, and it’s the safest place until they have had all the relevant vaccinations.
Teaching a puppy to walk on a lead – Your puppy’s first lead should be comfortable and quite short. You can lengthen the lead as they get older and have learned the five basic commands every dog needs to know. First, walk your puppy in the garden or the hallway indoors, instructing them to “walk”. When they keep the lead loose, give them verbal praise and a treat. If they pull the lead, stop and wait until they calm down. Never tell a puppy off.
Some puppy’s refuse to walk on a lead, usually because they’re scared. Be kind, pick him or her up, take them home and work on your puppy training there instead. Always reward your pup for good behaviour, and be patient. They’ll grow in confidence under their own steam, so don’t force it.
Teaching a puppy to walk to heel – Grab a handful of treats. Let your dog see that you have a treat in your hand, and then hold the treat in a closed fist at knee level. When your pup goes to sit or stand by the treat, praise them, hand the treat over and say “heel”. Then take a step forwards. If he or she matches your step, give them another treat and more praise. Walk slowly, with your pup always on either the right or left of you, bearing in mind that consistency is very important. If they pull on the lead, calmly stand still and wait until they stop. Then start walking again, and continue to reward them every time they stop pulling the lead or when they walk to heel.
Puppy Play – Games to play with your puppy
Basic tips – Puppies love to have fun. The games you play with your puppy have to be entertaining or they won’t play. On the other hand, it’s no good tiring them out, and it can be dangerous because too much exercise for little, soft, growing limbs can cause damage for life. Little and often is better than long sessions spread far apart, and mentally and physically stimulating games are the best of all.
Hide and seek – Give the “sit” command and get your puppy to wait. Then hide in another room. Call the pup when you’re ready. When they find you, act really excited, make a big fuss of them and give them a treat. Puppies never seem to get bored of finding their owners! You can also play hide and seek with treats and toys. If your puppy doesn’t know the ”sit” command yet you can play with two people, where one of you distracts the puppy while the other one hides.
Where’s it gone? – As a dog, using your nose to find hidden treasure is an exciting game. Hide a toy or treat somewhere obvious at first, so they don’t get bored or discouraged. Reward your puppy with loads of fuss and a treat when they find it, and make the game more challenging as time goes by. You can hide the treat or toy in another room, under their food bowl, even inside a cardboard box.
Fetch – Fetch is such a simple game but dogs adore it. Take a toy or ball, throw it and say “fetch”. Your dog will adore bringing it back to you time and time again. It works perfectly with a stick as long as it’s not small enough to swallow. The farther you can throw, the better. When you pretend to throw but keep the stick, ball or toy in your hand, your pup will get really excited!
The magic shell game – Take two plastic cups and turn them upside down. Put a treat under one of the cups. Let your puppy get the treat from under the cup, then once they’re used to the game, alternate the cups you use. If he or she chooses the right cup, let them have the treat. If not, let them see the treat but not have it. Keep them watching which cup you place the treat under so they can guess the right cup. Because this game takes some hard intellectual work, it keeps them happy for ages.
Naming toys – One particularly clever dog has learned the names of more than 1500 different toys. You can teach your puppy to learn the names of their toys through repetition. Hold a toy, clearly say its name with enthusiasm, let your dog grab it, then reward him or her for grabbing it. Repeat it 20 or more times and they’ll eventually get it. Then you can teach them the name of another toy.
Group puppy play – Is there a supervised puppy play group near you? If so it’s a brilliant way to socialise your little dog, ideal for pups aged 16 weeks old or less. The best groups are staffed by dog behaviour experts who can also give advice about socialising your puppy.