You got a new puppy! You’re picturing lots of playtime, right? That’s good, but you need to be careful. The puppy is still a baby, so proceed accordingly.
Sometimes, people expect boundless energy and an endless desire to play, run, and jump all over the place. Yes, young puppies are prone to big bursts of high energy and a love of playing, exploring, and chewing on everything within reach. But those bursts use up a lot of energy needed for growth. So they’ll need a nap.
Because puppies do not yet have the strength and mental capacity of fully grown dogs, there are limits to playtime types and duration. Just like in the story of the Three Bears, a certain amount is too much, another is too little, and some amount in between is just right.
How do you find that “just right” place? The definitive, absolute answer: it depends. Sorry, it’s not an exact science, but we will give you some information to help narrow down the answer to one that fits your puppy.
There is Such a Thing As Too Much Exercise and Playtime
Any dog expert — trainer, veterinarian, breeder — will tell you that too much playtime for your puppy is just as problematic as not enough of it. That sounds counterintuitive; it’s easy to see that a dog that doesn’t get enough exercise will not be healthy. But it doesn’t seem like “too much play” would be an issue for an energetic puppy, right?
Growing Bones and Tissues
Too much exercise time can cause injury and deformation because your puppy’s body is still growing. Puppy bones are soft so that they can lengthen. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons are also growing. A puppy’s soft and flexible growth plates harden and close in about 14 months or when they reach sexual maturity.
Developing Cardiovascular System
In addition to growth plates, puppies have not developed the cardiovascular power to support prolonged physical activity. Their energy comes in short bursts. Trying to get them to join you in your morning jog around the neighborhood is way too much at this stage.
Growing and Growing
Keep in mind that a lot of your puppy’s energy is devoted to growing. Those growth plates are at work. The puppy will get tired and will need plenty of nap time. Don’t interrupt their nap time to play; puppies need the rest. If you have children impatiently waiting to play, make this a rule.
Factors in Finding the “Just Right” Amount of Playtime
Again, it’s not a cookie-cutter situation. Some puppies mature faster, and some need more play and exercise. Some don’t want to get up for two minutes of exercise or play. It always depends on the dog.
Some breeds are highly energetic. Strong working breeds like German Shepherds need and tolerate a high level of exercise and play. Other puppies grow up to be couch potatoes. That doesn’t mean the higher energy breed puppies won’t reach a “too much” amount of playtime. It’ll just take a bit longer to get there.
Dogs of different sizes don’t mature at the same rates. Larger breeds need more time to develop. They have a lot more body mass to build, after all. The smallest dogs mature in six to nine months, while the largest dogs need 16 to 18 months. And, of course, all other dogs are somewhere in between.
If you have a large breed dog, remember that some of these breeds are prone to orthopedic problems. In addition, too much exercise early on increases the risk of long-term ailments.
As your puppy grows, they become more active and able to tolerate more types of play for longer. For example, an eight-week-old puppy can roll around on the ground for a while. An eight-month-old puppy can go for short walks.
High-energy dogs, such as Border Collies, Retrievers, or Jack Russell Terriers, need and can tolerate a higher level of play. There is still a “too much” threshold for puppies, though, so be careful not to cross it.
Puppy Playtime: When and for How Long?
When playing with and exercising your puppy, not only are the above factors important but so are the duration and frequency of your play sessions. Unfortunately, there’s no formula or right buttons to push on a calculator to find the perfect numbers telling you what your puppy needs. It will take some trial and error and much observation to see how your puppy reacts.
Use the 5-Minute Rule
This is an excellent place to start. This general rule of thumb says to have five minutes of play per month of age twice a day. You can increase the time each month by an additional five minutes.
We said earlier that a puppy’s energy comes in short bursts. So plan your playtime the same way — in short bursts. Split playtime into several brief sessions (three to six) throughout the day with time for rest in between.
Pick High-Energy Moments
Play with your puppy when they’re fully awake and energetic to ensure they will get the most out of playtime. Also, ensure you’re at least one hour past their most recent meal to avoid digestive upsets and a miserable puppy.
If you can, play with your puppy at the same time each day. Adult dogs thrive on routines, and puppies are no different.
How to Play With Puppies
There are so many ways to play! It’s great exercise for any dog (and you), can be mentally stimulating, and is a wonderful way to bond. Puppies love running around, chasing and tugging on things, rolling on the floor with you, jumping, and chomping on your shoes. So, what’s best for them?
Keep Them From Over Exercising
While they’re still in growth mode, you need to keep them from overexerting. Because their bones are still soft, as mentioned earlier, they should not run for long distances or periods of time, and they should not engage in high-impact activity, such as jumping from the sofa to the floor. Your puppy will try to keep up with you, even when tired. It’s up to you to observe them and stop them before becoming exhausted.
Choose Age-Appropriate Activities
A young puppy can roll around on the floor and bat at a toy you dangle above them. A few weeks later, you can take them on short walks and play brief games. Gradually increase the time for walks and play as they become stronger.
Toys, Games, and More
After you’ve figured out what to avoid and what your puppy can handle, you can now choose from a seemingly endless list of things to do with them. Of course, you want them to have fun, but also pick things that imply socialization and mental stimulation!
Dog toys come in all kinds of sizes. Some make noises, hold treats, are chewable or chasable, and keep your puppy’s interest. Before playing, remove any parts that are loose or can easily be torn off and swallowed, like the eyes and noses on stuffed animals. Soft toys, as well as those that hold treats, are great for puppies!
For a puppy, be careful with games that involve tugging. You don’t want to strain neck muscles and teeth too much. Instead, you can play fetch (using short distances), hide and seek, and mentally stimulating games that involve simple problem-solving, such as how to get treats out of the toy.
Walk time for puppies involves short strolls with lots of time to stop, sniff and explore. They won’t be ready to run a mile with you for a while.
Tricks and Commands
This is an excellent time to start simple training in basic commands — Sit, Stay, and such. And for fun, you can teach them some easy tricks.
Once your puppy has been vaccinated, usually at about 16 weeks, you can safely take them outside to play, especially if you have an enclosed space, such as a fenced backyard. When they’re a little older, you can take them to the dog park or to meet your friends’ dogs. Socialization with other people and dogs plays a vital role in playtime.
During all this playtime, keep your puppy safe by leash training them, avoiding outdoors when it’s very hot or cold, and steering clear of slippery or sharp surfaces. Gradually add more playtime as the puppy grows stronger, and take frequent breaks as needed.
Unsure How to Train Your Puppy? Sign Them Up for Our K9 Basics Training Sessions!
All the variables involved in determining what your puppy can do and when can be confusing. You don’t want to do anything too soon and harm the puppy, but you can’t just mark a date on the calendar and say that’s when the puppy can start playing with this toy or playing that game.
We at K9 Basics have a team of professional trainers who can help you decide what to do. We will train your puppy and show you what is appropriate for their age and stage of development. And we’ll help you figure out when it’s okay to increase activity. So, contact us for an appointment!
Give us a call at (866) 592-2742 or, if you’re from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, or New York, visit us at 131 Kenilworth Road, Marlton, New Jersey 08053, to learn more about our dog training services. Also, browse our blog and social media for various topics about dogs and their lives with us!
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