Is My Dog Really a Jogger?

It’s summer time, the sun is out, I live near a 2-ish mile long lake that attracts loads of walkers and runners, and I can’t tell you how often I spot a jogger with what looks like a very young dog tackling the loop.

The first thing I notice is whether the dog looks like they are enjoying the experience. For some dogs, their bodies look loose and fluid–in other words, their body language reads as comfortable. For other dogs, their ears are pinned backwards, mouths held tightly, they have a stiffer body, and are lagging or even putting body weight towards the opposite direction. There may be a lot of different reasons or a combo of reasons why a dog looks more like the latter. They may be overstimulated being in that environment, there may be triggers or stressors present, or they may not find the pace or activity comfortable. What’s important here is to recognize that not all dogs will make the running partner that you might be hoping for. It’s important to ask ourselves whether our dog, if given a choice, would choose to hit the pavement or prefer, for example, to play chase with us in a field.

A second thought that comes to mind is whether jogging is even an appropriate exercise for a puppy or young dog. Providing physical exercise for your puppy or young dog is one aspect of supporting their overall welfare, as are appropriate opportunities for socialization. Not all exercise is the same; in other words, a short dash around the backyard may have a different physiological effect than repetitive jogging for a distance. We also need to consider whether there are any special issues with exercising a young dog whose physical development is still in progress and whose growth plates haven’t yet fused.

Since I’m not a vet, I turned to Dr. Darryl Millis’ blog for a response to that question and found this comment, “The most important thing is that puppies should be free of hip and elbow dysplasia, and genetic tendencies to conditions such as osteochondritis dissecans. The most important environmental issue is to keep puppies thin and not let them get overweight. High impact exercise (such as jumping from heights or sharp turns) should be avoided until maturity and a period of adequate conditioning, agility and strength training.”  He goes on to describe an observation of a pack of African Wild Dogs, their puppies, and their natural opportunities to engage in species-typical exercise as ideal.  

A common misconception is that puppies need a lot of exercise, as they have a lot of energy to burn. I hear this too with adult dogs who have a lot of energy and pet parents who feel compelled to take their dog out for multiple walks per day or what seems to be lengthier and lengthier hikes to “wear them out”. I would caution that this can easily become a recipe for training an elite athlete or marathoner. If you find yourself in this position, I’d encourage you to take a look at our pet enrichment poster and think about how all of your pet’s needs are being met on the whole, not just physical exercise.  

Have any of you heard of the “5 minute rule”?  Someone, somewhere made a recommendation to “calculate 5 minutes of exercise per month of age in order to figure out how much your puppy should exercise” (e.g. a 4 month puppy should “exercise” for 20 minutes). As far as I can tell there isn’t scientific evidence to support the “5 minute rule”.  Rather than focusing on the length of time you should be physically exercising your puppy, especially based on a non-scientific recommendation, it may be more useful to think about the big picture of doggie welfare, of which physical activity is just one piece. Think about how you can provide opportunities for your puppy to meet all of their needs. Physical exercise can mean letting them use their nose to find treats in the grass, playing a game that allows for social interaction with you and helps strengthen their engagement and bond with you, or letting the puppy direct how they want to play in the yard. Our job as humans is to set them up for success; for example, helping them avoid high impact moves like taking sharp turns round and round the yard or jumping off a higher level deck by giving them opportunities for more appropriate ways to get out their wigglies. It might mean being the referee if they pick up speed in the house on a slippery surface and look like they may skid out. It’s also our job to observe and see when your puppy should take a break; if they are having difficulty switching to a lower gear then we need to help them tune in by, for example, giving them a chew toy and a soft spot to start learning how to chill for a bit. Lastly, don’t forget summer time brings warmer weather, hot pavement, and greater need for water, so keep an eye out for your pooch if you are doing an activity under these conditions. 

It won’t be long before your puppy is past their early formative stages, both physically and socially, and ready to expand their repertoire of activities, which may include being your running buddy or long hiking partner. You may discover that your dog loves to use their nose and the best thing ever is going on a hunt for scent hides that you have hidden throughout the backyard. Or that playing keep away and chase fills their cup. Your puppy, as an individual, will show you what they like to do for physical exercise. Boon’s fave is going to town and tracking where the deer have walked that morning: when she finds them, she gives out a lil squeal, then puts her nose back to the ground to try to track some more.  

Now What? 

  • Brainstorm options for physical exercise that are appropriate for the developmental stage of your pet, whatever species they are, and fit with their level of health and condition.
  • Observe your pet as they undertake any of these exercise options and reflect on their body language for evidence of whether they seem to be enjoying the activity or not.
  • If you undertake a new activity, remember baby steps to set up your pet for success.
  • If you are unsure about whether the activity is a good fit with your pet’s level of health and condition, reach out to your vet. 

Happy Training! 

Tracy

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