Exercise & Growth - It's affect on the Puppy

Skeleton of the Dog

1. Cranium
2. Maxilla
3. Mandible
4. Atlas
5. Axis
6. Scapula
7. Spine of scapula
8. Humerus
9. Radius
10. Ulna
11. Phalanges
12. Metacarpal Bones
13. Carpal Bones 

14. Sternum
15. Cartilaginous part of rib
16. Ribs
17. Phalanges
18. Metatarsal Bones
19. Tarsal Bones
20. Calcaneus
21. Fibula
22. Tibia
23. Patella
24. Femur
25. Ischium
26. Pelvis

A – Cervical or Neck Bones (7 in number).
B – Dorsal or Thoracic Bones (13 in number, each bearing a rib). 
C – Lumbar Bones (7 in number).
D – Sacral Bones (3 in number). 
E – Caudal or Tail Bones (20 to 23 in number).

X-ray of a three week old puppy.


Interesting fact, a 8 to 30 -week-old puppies’ bones don’t even touch yet.

They plod around cutely with big floppy paws & wobbly movement because their joints are entirely made up of muscle, tendons, ligaments with skin covering. Nothing is fitting tightly together or has a true socket yet.

When you run them excessively or don’t restrict their exercise to stop them from overdoing it during this period you don’t give them a chance to grow properly.

Every big jump or excited, bouncing run causes impacts between the bones. In reasonable amounts this is not problematic and is the normal wear and tear that every animal will engage in.

But when you’re letting puppy jump up and down off the lounge or bed, take them for long walks/hikes, you are damaging that forming joint. When you let the puppy scramble on tile or laminate floor with no traction you are  potentially damaging the joint.

A well-formed body is something that comes from good breeding and a great upbringing-BOTH, not just one.

Growth rates in puppies varies greatly depending on their size. It is important to tailor diet and exercise to your puppy’s specific requirements to ensure ideal skeletal development.

Endochondral ossification (the process during which cartilage turns to bone) differs depending on the adult size of your puppy, with growth plates closing (complete ossification has occurred) between 3 months in toy breeds and 24 months in large breeds (see pictures).

There are many factors affecting growth rate and age of maturity, for instance males mature slower than females. There are variations in periods of ‘rapid growth’ ranging from birth to 11 weeks in small and toy breed dogs to birth to 20 weeks in large breeds (Hawthorne et al 2004) excessive exercise and inadequate nutrition during these periods may result in conformation abnormalities and malformation of bones, which may lead to osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease

X-ray of eight week old puppy

“The early months of a puppy's life are important for its later development. A healthy diet and regular exercise are essential to development.”

Yes, we all have to agree to this statement as it displays true facts.

“Every dog owner has a duty of care to make sure that their dog gets at least one walk every day. Unlike most activities dog walking is something that the whole family can enjoy and better still, it doesn’t cost anything at all.”

 Puppy exercising

Puppies need much less exercise than fully-grown dogs. If you over-exercise a growing puppy you can overtire it and damage its developing joints, causing early arthritis. A good rule of thumb is a ratio of five minutes’ exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown, i.e. 15 minutes (up to twice a day) when three months old, 20 minutes when four months old etc. Once they are fully grown, they can go out for much longer.

It is important that puppies and dogs go out for exercise every day in a safe and secure area, or they may become frustrated. Time spent in the garden (however large) is no substitute for exploring new environments and socialising with other dogs. (Make sure your puppy is trained to recall so that you are confident that he will return to you when called).


Playing is a great way to train and bond with your puppy in a positive and fun way.

  • Games which are calm and controlled by you are the most effective.
  • Aggression can be fostered if you play tug of war so make sure you don’t create a competitive environment between you and your puppy.
  • He is likely to become aroused or frustrated with intense physical play so ensure children are not around or involved when his games are like this. Only use suitable dog toys that are safe for your puppy.

 Sleep time

Your puppy will need time to sleep to assist with his development. At times, you may need to encourage him.

 Bone problems in young dogs

Puppies continue to grow and develop for months or years after birth. Giant breeds may not reach full adult size for 18 months or 2 years. During this growth period, they are at risk from bone and joint disorders. Some of these are inherited such as hip and elbow dysplasia. Damage can also result from traumatic injury.

Why is bone injury in pups serious?

Puppies and young dogs have enormous healing potential and bone fractures, once treated, can heal rapidly and completely. When a puppy is born the ends of each bone are soft and it is from these soft parts that the bone continues to extend as the puppy grows. These areas are called the growth plates. Because the growth plates are softer they are a weak point of the bone in the growing animal. Once a dog reaches adult size the growth plates close and become bony. Any damage to the growth plates of bones prevents the bone from growing normally. If this happens to the bones in the leg this can have severe consequences and limb shortening or deformity can result.

What damages growth plates?

Sometimes, surprisingly enough it may only be a mild trauma, eg a knock or bang to the leg that does not break the skin can cause injury to the growth plates. For this reason, traumatic injury to the bones or joints of puppies and young dogs should always be reported to the veterinary surgeon. It may be necessary to monitor the injury over weeks and months to ensure that limb deformity is not occurring. If growth plate damage is suspected treatment must be started early to limit the adverse effects of interruptions in bone growth. The area most at risk is towards the lower end of the front limbs, around the carpus (or wrist) joint, above the paw. This is an important growth plate responsible for increasing the length of the forelimb is present just underneath the skin where it is very vulnerable to injury.

Can diet affect bone growth?

A balanced diet is very important for the development of healthy bones. Dogs fed a diet which does not contain enough calcium do not develop strong bones. Puppies fed an all meat diet may develop bone disease (also known as ‘Butcher’s dog disease’ and sometimes incorrectly called ‘rickets’). However, it is important to stress that a balanced diet is the key to a healthy puppy and feeding excess calcium supplements can be as dangerous as not giving enough.

Puppies with weak bones caused by poor diet have painful legs and are often lame and miserable. Sometimes their bones are so weak that they fracture easily. The condition can be easily managed by changing to a healthy balanced diet and keeping the puppy rested for several weeks to prevent further damage to the bones before they get stronger. Unfortunately, if the disease is not recognised early significant damage can be done to the bones and this may limit the animal’s ability to develop normally even when the diet is corrected.

What diseases can affect growing puppies?

Some puppies are born with genetic conditions passed from their parents. These conditions are often more common in some breeds than others. There are few genetic diseases that just affect the bone but several affect the development of the joints. The best known inherited joint disease is hip dysplasia.

Special scoring schemes for hip and elbow dysplasia have been developed – these allow the early detection of the condition so that the individual can be treated and to prevent the affected animal from being used for breeding and passing the condition on to its puppies.

Dogs are born to work for a living. They’ve worked alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a purpose, like hunting, herding livestock or providing protection. Dogs’ wild relatives spend most of their waking hours scavenging and hunting for food, caring for offspring, defending territory and playing with each other. They lead busy, complex lives, interacting socially and solving simple problems necessary for their survival.

The most common job for our companion dogs today, however, is Couch Potato! They no longer should earn their keep and instead have to adjust to our more sedentary lifestyles. They get their food for free in a bowl and are often confined, alone and inactive, for most of the day. This lack of purpose leaves dogs no outlet for their naturally active tendencies-physical and mental-and it contributes to the development of behaviour problems.

Another problem modern dogs face because they rarely work anymore is a lack of opportunities to exercise. Some pet parents make the mistake of if if a dog has access to a yard, she’s getting exercise. But your dog doesn’t run laps by herself in your yard-or do much of anything besides waiting for you to come outside or let her back inside. It’s the interaction with you that counts!

Exercising Your Dog

With today’s more sedentary lifestyles, dog parents are often challenged to find enough outlets for their pets’ considerable natural energy. Dogs are more athletic than us. But take heart-there are a variety of ways to exercise your dog, from activities that don’t demand much energy on your part to activities that exercise both you and your dog. 

How much exercise do puppies need?

The question of how much exercise puppies need and should receive is a challenging one to answer, as the goalposts are always moving due to the puppy’s changing age and growth! It also depends on the type of exercise that your pup receives; walks on the lead are low-impact, and can be carried out more often than high-impact, vigorous play such as running and jumping, which should be monitored carefully to avoid causing damage to the developing limbs.

This potential for damage during development is why you will not be able to get your puppy started in any canine sports such as agility until your pup is at least a year to eighteen months old; this is one of the rules of the sport, in order to protect the health and growth of your developing puppy.

Pups go through their largest, fasted period of physical growth and development between the ages of four and eight months, and this is when the growth plates are also working their hardest to harden off. After around eight months of age, the growth plates should be fully or almost fully fused, and the largest window of risk of damage will have closed. However, for some giant dog breeds that grow and develop at a much slower rate, it can take eighteen months to two years for growth to complete and the growth plates to have fully developed.

In terms of working out exactly how much exercise your puppy needs or should be provided with before they reach the age where the growth plates have fully developed, it is important to factor in the age of your pup and their stage of development, and increase their exercise levels as they get older gradually.

A good rule of thumb is provided by The Kennel Club, which suggests that for every month of the pup’s age, they should receive five minutes of exercise, repeated twice daily. So once your pup is six months old, they should be getting half an hour of exercise, twice per day. Understandably, you should take into account your dog’s own development when working out what is best for them, and not push them past the point of tiredness or reluctance to play.

Also bear in mind that a half hour sedate walk is rather different to a half hour of vigorous jumping about and lots of running around, and moderate this accordingly.

Look at how far the bones have to grow before they become a proper bony joint! This is why you should never let puppies jump, walk up/down stairs, over exercise or over train. Doing too much impact activity at a young age will cause serious issues later in life, or even at a young age as hip dysplasia and other orthopedic conditions are rising in puppies!

Enjoy your new puppy but remember you wouldn’t make a 6 month old baby run a mile a day so don’t make your puppy either!

Exercise That’s Easy On You

Giving your dog enough exercise doesn’t mean you must be athletic yourself. If you’d rather not run around or take long, brisk walks, consider two approaches to exercising your dog:

  1. Focus on brain, not brawn. Exercise your dog’s brain with food puzzle toys, hunting for dinner, obedience and trick training, and chew toys instead of excessive physical exercise. 
  1. Focus on games that make your dog run around while you mostly stand or sit still. Games that fit the bill include fetch with balls, Frisbees, Find It, Hide-and-Seek, catching bubbles (using a special bubble-blower toy made for dogs, such as the Bubble Buddy™), chase (a toy on a rope or stick), and round-robin recalls for the whole family. If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs, other easy options include taking her to the dog park, organising play groups with friends or neighbours who have dogs or signing her up for dog day-care a few days a week. These options give your dog a chance to experience invigorating social play with other dogs.

The Best Type of Exercise to Give Young Puppies

By far the best type of daily exercise to give young puppies needs to be carefully planned. Ideally you should take your little furry four-legged friend for short walks where they can see other dogs, meet people and generally learn to socialise and learn about new things in the environment, namely scary cars and various strange noises. Obviously, puppy needs to be fully vaccinated before being taken into the great outdoors, but when they are, this is the time to start a routine of short and interesting daily walks.

Playing and Interacting in the Home

It’s really important to play and interact with your new puppy when you are with them in the home. It’s a great time to teach them the basic rules which includes sit and come. These first commands when learnt early enough, will stand you in good stead further down the line when you start to teach your pet more challenging commands and tricks.

Another great game that’s a training exercise too and one which all puppies adore is “fetch”. Teaching a young puppy to retrieve is a great interactive game that helps form a strong bond between you and your pet. You are effectively stimulating puppy with a physical and mental exercise – a perfect combination when it comes to teaching a puppy new things.

Taking on a new puppy is a huge responsibility but if you are well prepared, you are in for a wonderful time! There will be moments of pure joy and a few little mishaps along the way which is all part of the process of them growing up – and you have to remember, these darling little creatures become lovely adult dogs. Puppies are gorgeous when they are awake and just as cute when they are asleep. Knowing how much exercise to give them means noting down when they are full of spirits and when they usually pass out. Like this you can figure out when it’s the best time of the day (or evening) to play interactive games with them and when to take them out for short daily walks!

Puppies tend to be lively, active little bundles of fur, who are always on the go and looking for something to do-in between prolonged periods of rest and deep sleep! Due to this, many owners of a new puppy think that it is not possible to provide too much exercise, or that it is okay to exercise the pup up until the point that they tire out and no longer want to run around and play.

However, there is also another factor to take into account when playing with and exercising your puppy, and this is the development of the pup’s growth plates, and ensuring that they do not become overburdened or damaged by too much movement while your dog is still developing them.

In order to be able to work out how much exercise your puppy needs and to ensure that the growth plates develop properly and normally, it is first important to know what the growth plates are, what they do, and how they develop.

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