How many times have you heard, “We have the puppy or the dog, to go jogging with me or my …” Many exercise enthusiasts would love nothing more than exercising with their pet. They imagine themselves keeping fit not to mention sharing adventures and exploring new horizons together. They don’t realize that forced exercise could cause their pet lifelong pain and damage.
Before you inadvertently cause serious injury and likely permanent damage to your puppy or young dog’s joints and bones, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, never allow a puppy younger than 6 months to do forceful exercise. Forced exercise is any repetitive movement, over a prolonged period of time, that causes stress on developing joints and bones. That includes jogging, biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, or even pulling sleds or carts.
Not all dogs or breeds are capable of extreme endurance and forced exercise. Particular attention should be paid to the types and amount of exercise brachycephalic (i.e. short-headed) breeds can get, for example Boxers, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and Pugs. Large and giant breeds, such as Great Danes, Wolfdogs, and Irish and Russian Mastiffs, also require unique considerations when putting together an exercise program for the owner / dog.
As with human babies, puppies have growth plates that must be formed and sealed. It’s called an epiphyseal scar. If the soft area where bone growth originates is not allowed to harden, your puppy or young dog’s bones will bow because they do not meet at the ends with the connecting bone. The epiphyseal plate is a cartilage palate at the end of long bones. It can also be the location of endocrine bone disorders, fractures, metastases, and even infections.
Dogs have 14 sets of growth plates. With small to medium-sized dogs, the process generally takes 12 to 16 months. With those who will weigh more than 100 pounds, it often takes at least 18 months to complete the process. Most reputable breeders and vets believe that large and giant breeds may not complete the process until they are about 2 years old. Be patient. By starting your dog too young, he will most likely cause concussion damage, such as fractures or joint damage, which can lead to arthritis, elbow and hip problems.
It is suggested that your puppy or young dog get an X-ray so that there is a baseline from which to work. With that, your vet will be able to estimate how long to wait for the plates to close and you can begin exercising with your dog.
While you wait for your pet to mature, you can work on its stamina. Focus on your cardiovascular and muscle development with non-stressful exercises like swimming. Swimming is a great way to get and keep your dog in shape, without straining the bones or joints. It is also a wonderful way to continue exercising with your dog into his senior year, when you can no longer join him in those races.
Once you get the go-ahead from your vet, start slowly. Don’t expect your puppy or dog to keep up with his usual distance and speed right away. They have to gradually work towards it.
Watch for heavy panting, lameness, and whining. Your dog may be distressed or in pain.
Take lots of water. Find a shady spot. Give only a little water at a time. Dogs don’t get cold by sweating like we do. They need water to avoid overheating, dehydration, and heat exhaustion.
Run only during the coolest hours of the day.
Do not feed your pet immediately before or after his run. You risk cramping and gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), commonly known as “bloat.” GDV is the second natural cause of death for dogs.
Check your feet and pads periodically. It is much easier and more comfortable for them to be able to return home from a shorter distance.
If your dog is showing signs of lameness, is unable to get comfortable in certain positions, changes noticeably in weight, whines, seems sore, shows no interest in joining you, or doesn’t want to be touched in certain areas, have him do so. your vet.
If you’re lucky, you haven’t done too much damage and your dog hasn’t been sentenced to a lifetime of chronic pain.