Labrador Puppy Exercise: How Much Does A Puppy Need?

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How much exercise is too much for a small puppy. Find out here.

New puppy owners often worry about their puppy’s exercise requirements and limits.

‘How much exercise does a puppy need?’ ‘How far can a puppy walk?’

And ‘Is it possible to exercise a puppy too much?’

These are common question and you can find the answers here, along with a handy puppy exercise chart

Taking your new puppy for a walk

We all look forward to the day we can take our new puppy for a walk.

For many people, daily dog walks is a huge part of why they bought a Labrador in the first place. And it is natural to want to get started with ‘walking’ your new puppy just as soon as his vaccinations are finished

Some new puppy owners are aware that they should not over-exercise their puppy. But are not at all sure what ‘over-exercise’ looks like.

Others already take quite small puppies for quite long walks and are surprised to discover that many experts believe this to be a bad thing.

So just how much exercise does a puppy really need? We’ll start by looking at what breeders frequently recommend.

How much exercise does a puppy need?

Many dog breeders suggest the ‘five minute rule’.  This rule of thumb says that a puppy should have no more than five minutes of walking for every month of his age.

So that would be fifteen minutes a day maximum for a three month old puppy, twenty minutes for a four month old and so on.

Puppy Exercise Chart in Miles and minutes for each month of agePuppies under three months old do not need any kind of ‘walks’  at all,  and most won’t be walked in any case because they will not have completed their course of vaccinations

How does over-exercising harm puppies

This concern about excessive exercise has arisen because it is widely believed that exercise is a factor in the development of serious joint disorders. Especially in larger breed puppies such as Labradors

marvin the mooseBreeders are particularly concerned about hip dysplasia, a serious and complex disorder of the hip joints, that is believed to be influenced both by inherited factors passed from dogs to their puppies and by environmental factors

You can find out more about the disease of canine hip dysplasia on this page Hip dysplasia

In addition to factors influencing growth rates, the stresses and strains placed on the vulnerable growing joint by excessive exercise are believed to be a contributory environmental factor in the development of inadequate hip joints.

And while we don’t know for sure.   It seems likely,  that a puppy that had inherited a tendency for poor hips,  could have its soft and still forming hip joints made a good deal worse through prolonged or hard exercise.

It is also possible that a puppy that has inherited excellent hips,  will come to no harm whatsoever through hard exercise.

The five minute rule is really a safety precaution,  and it makes sense to pay attention to this advice simply because we believe that  ‘playing it safe’  will not harm your puppy.

Different types of puppy exercise

But that doesn’t mean puppies under three months shouldn’t be exercised. On the contrary, a certain amount of free running exercise is a good thing

Running off-leash

A Norwegian study published 2012 and which included labradors, showed that puppies given the opportunity to exercise off leash in a park before the age of three months were less likely to develop hip dysplasia (HD), not more.

feeding2

We don’t know how long these puppies were allowed to exercise for, but no time limit is mentioned.

Stair climbing

The same study showed that puppies that had to climb stairs on a regular basis during the same period were at increased risk of HD

You can read about this study in Science Daily

So what does this study tell us?

Well, it is only one study, but it suggests that playing in a natural way, with other pups or simply running about at their own speed is probably going to benefit a small puppy

Strenuous exercise

Whereas more strenuous activity such as climbing hills and stairs, may not be such a good thing at a very young age.

Another study has suggested that running hard for a retrieve, may not be great for joint health either.

And some breeders also prevent dogs from jumping for the first twelve months to reduce impact on the shoulder and elbow joints.

This may be especially important for some of the heavier breeds of dog, and those that are slow to mature.

How far should my puppy walk

Okay, so that is the standard advice that breeder’s give out. But how does that translate to distances walked?

If you like to think in distances rather than time, a mile is around 2000 steps for an adult human and takes about twenty minutes at a moderate walking speed.

So a maximum walk for a four month old Labrador might be about a mile. And of course if you are walking out and back again, that means not taking the dog more than half a mile from your home or car, whichever is your starting point.

With young puppies, you need to keep a balance. Think about the overall energy your puppy is expending rather than focusing on walking alone.

Walking is only one form of exercise and is no more valuable or important than games or training exercises.

If you have been to visit a friend with your five month old pup and their dog has played for half an hour in the garden with yours, your dog does not need a walk as well. It is the total exercise that counts.

How much exercise is too much?

Obviously, the five minute rule isn’t set in stone. And you are bound to know of someone whose puppy had far more exercise than this and came to no harm.

However taking a puppy for long walks or asking him to negotiate very steep or uneven surfaces when he is little, is probably a bad idea.

Beware of letting a puppy play for too long with an older dog that does not want to stop.

And keep an eye on children who may inadvertently exhaust a puppy by encouraging him to play when he needs to sleep.

Crating your puppy when he is tired or overexcited, will enable you to make sure that your puppy gets some well deserved down time.

You can find out how to crate train your puppy in our in-depth guide, and you’ll find recommended crates and crate sizes in our supplies section

Summary

Young puppies need the time and space to run about freely, and free running exercise is beneficial.

You do not need to attempt to prevent puppies playing in the garden, trotting about the house or playing with another young puppy for a while. Provided that the puppy is free to stop and rest whenever he wants.

As far as we know at the moment, formal exercise – walking on a lead – for example, is probably best restricted using the five minute rule as an approximate guide.

And strenuous exercise such as stair climbing, and chasing balls should be limited or avoided altogether in puppies under three months of age.

Remember, an adult dog can become an amazing athlete, but like all athletes, fitness and stamina are best built up in gentle stages if injury is to be avoided.

Do talk to your vet about exercise at your first appointment with your puppy.  We are still learning about hip dysplasia.  Research is ongoing, knowledge increases all the time.

Your vet should be up to date with the  latest information regarding the optimum amount of exercise for your new puppy.

More information on puppies

Happy-Puppy-jacket-image1-195x300For more information on exercising and feeding your puppy don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.

Published in April 2014, the Happy Puppy covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.

The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and good manners.

The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.

This article was originally published in 2012 and has been extensively revised and updated for 2016

References

Slater MR, Scarlett JM, Donoghue S, Kaderly RE, Bonnett BN, Cockshutt J, Erb HN. Diet and exercise as potential risk factors for osteochondritis dissecans in dogs. Am J Vet Res. 1992;53:2119–24
Marie H. Sallander3, Åke Hedhammar, and Mari E. H. Trogen  Diet, Exercise, and Weight as Risk Factors in Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Arthrosis in Labrador Retrievers 1,2  2006 American Society for Nutrition

Randi I. Krontveit ∗, Cathrine Trangerud, Bente K. Sævik, Hege K. Skogmo, Ane Nødtvedt Risk factors for hip-related clinical signs in a prospective cohort study
of four large dog breeds in Norway 2011

42 COMMENTS

  1. can I ask – at what point does the caution/five-minute rule stop? is it ok to start increasing walks (gradually) at 6 months, when the chart above finishes? when is the potential risk to joints over?

    • The problem is, there is no real evidence to support the five minute rule, it’s just a guideline. So no-one can tell you whether or when to abandon it 🙂 Having said that, most people stop worrying about it once the dog passes his first birthday, and some well before that. The joints are at their most vulnerable while the dog is growing fast, and most experts recommend you avoid jarring actions (such as jumping) until after the first birthday. Again, these are precautions. There is no strong evidence to support them so no-one can give you a definite date or instruction. Sorry we can’t be more specific, try not to overdo things while your pup is still growing, just in case.

  2. Hi Pippa
    I’m an avid reader of your books and articles which are really helpful. My lab is now 6 months. We live on the coast and he simply adores swimming! I have been wondering if I should restrict how much swimming he does? I’d not think swimming would strain any of his developing joints but I’m not sure. Have you any idea at all?

  3. If you worry about hip dysplasia, read the new research on how much higher the risk is when you spay or neuter before 12-14 months. I believe it’s double. Gonadal hormones control the development of the Lab’s legs.

  4. my ten week old lab sleeps outside in his kennell since the night i brought him home i locked himin at ten pm with a teddy bear and a blanket and a comfy warm bed for the first week and let him out at 5.30 am and took him for a small walk, he whinged for the fist ten minutes the first two nights and then nothing, after a week i left the kennell door open and now he is no bother he knows where to go to sleep and be warm. however until reading these letters i may have been overwalking him id been walking for around 30 mins every evening so maybe now i will cut that back to 15 mins. he is being very good to train so far just the basics to wait when crossing a road, stop when i stop, not bark at other dogs and sit and lie down. maybe next week i will start on the come command and stay. i hope this article may be helpful to some as the others were helpful to me

  5. I have two sisters, they’ve always had the same food, amount of excercise (I kept to the five minute rule, no jumping which is really difficult with two puppies at once) rest etc. At 11 months Bonnie developed a limp on her front leg. I went to the vet she advised rest at Metacalm and to go back if no better. A week later she was in for X-Rays, then advised to go to a specialist who gave her a CT scan who then advised surgery at another specialist vet. She has elbow dysplasia.
    My point is, during all this time of being recommended to see different specialist they gave her vitamins called Synoquin EFA a loading dose of 3 a day) and they have really helped her she hasn’t limped at all in the last week (she’s been taking them for one month) and I have considered her not having the op, but if it re-occurs my insurance won’t cover the treatment. So they will suck the irritating bone fragment out and we can start to build her excercise up again. I have put them both on the vitamins as I believe they made a massive difference.

  6. all great tips, Molly is now 14 weeks, so worried about the distance we walk molly come to work with me so its 2 walks but at weekend its 3 times she is always full of it but she sleeps when we get home we do about a mile max each night, she is crated and can be herd snoring before I get in bed and sleeps till morning, she just needs out asp or there may be a little accident!! just so worried about the walking we do, get so much different advice about how long she goes

  7. Can you provide the research for over exercising puppies? I read the article on stairs and it seems that puppies that were well exercise were less prone to dysplasia and puppies that utilized stairs often had an increase in dysplasia and I found no mention of a control group of restricted exercise.

    I am worried because my 12 week male lab has so much energy. He plays with two older goldens a couple times daily and he has free rein, under our watchful eye, of the backyard. However if we leave it at that he’s up all night ready to play. However if I walk him(at his pace giving him the opportunity to run, sniff, sit/watch, etc) two to three times at 2-4 miles a walk he’s calmer at home, but still full of energy, and will sleep through the night.

    I enjoy the walks too because we can aim to actually meet 100 people in his first 100 days, and we meet all the neighbors dogs, some friendly, some not so to get him well socialized and introduced to the neighbors who’ll find him should he ever escape from the yard. But like most, I’m worried about risks vs rewards of exercise.

    But again, I would like to see if you have further scientific research regarding exercise and puppy as it relates to dysplasia, because based on the article you did cite, there was no mention of the benefits to exercise restriction and I would like to understand why you did state that their could be ham caused by exercise without proof.

    Thanks for your dedication to providing so much useful information, and my intentions are only to validate/confirm what is best for my puppy.

    Thank you, stephen

  8. Hi Pippa,
    I have a 5month old lab. Shes very tall for her age (her shoulders stand approx 54cm from the ground). Shes actually the same size as my 11year old choc lab! Shes always full of energy. I take her on at least 45min walk every night and she gets about a 90min walk at the weekend. Is this too much for her? When we finish our walks shes always more hyper than when i first took her!

    • Hi Debbie, it isn’t so much about how fit, energetic or tall your dog it. It is more about the immaturity of her skeleton. I can’t really add anything to the article at this point, though I will do if more research is published.

  9. Hai I have a 2 months lab puppy. From last 4 days it’s getting blood motions and it’s become very tired but I consult a doctor they said its a viral disease and she also wamthing but not blood only food.we r getting very fear about the puppy it will cure r not from this disease we r regularly contacting doctor and giving treatment and also using glucose….. Please reply me if It is cure r not…

  10. Hey, so I have a 5 – 6 month old black lab/ blue heeler mix. We walk her 3 times a day, the walks are usually 20 min each depending on how often she stops to smell everything around her, Shes 35 pounds. we have to go up and down 4 flights of stairs to go for these walks. Do you think this is to much for her? She often plays with her ball in the house as well.

    • Id love to know about this too as I have a 16 week lab pup who has to go up and down stairs several times a day to get into the garden and have been taking him on a couple of short walks a day too plus a longer walk occasionally but we do stop for lots of rests …..

  11. Hi Pippa,
    I have just got a puppy chocolate lab he’s 12 weeks , he goes cries whenever i go upstairs or leave him at night, is this due to just a new house and still abit strange . The only way i can get him to sleep is if i stay down with him to he falls asleep the go out quitely. Is this normal and should it pass witb time ? And is there anything i can do to make it less stressful for him ?

  12. Do lab puppies ever have to “grow into their ears”? My 14 week yellow lab puppy’s ears have changed. They are no longer the standard triangle ear, they now seem to fold over in the middle and hang. If that makes sense. I was wondering if they would go back to normal as he grows or if there is anything I could do to help them.

  13. As I havean an 4months of yellow lab, her name is SWEETY. She Has problem of hairfall and it’s more. So could u suggest me for the precaution….

  14. Hi Pippa,

    A very interesting article, as always.
    I am hoping in the future to take my 8 month old lab cross whippet with me when I go for jogs/runs. At what age is it appropriate to start jogging with a dog?

  15. Hi

    I have a 14 week old black lab puppy. He is very energetic and loves to play. I typically take him for one or two ten minute walks a day and he does very well on the walks.

    Today I took him with me to a 5k fun run and he wanted to keep up with the crowd and bigger dogs. We jogged a mile and then on and off for the rest of the time. I never knew until now that to much exercise could be harmful and I am very worried that I could have caused damage to him. He seems okay just very tired, but I am worried there will now be long term damage done. Any advice???

    • Hi Kelly, as you cannot undo what is done, try not to worry. Unfortunately I cannot predict whether or not any harm will have been done, and hope he is OK. Best wishes, Pippa

  16. hi
    i have a 4 months old lab he is very active but several problems are there that makes me sad he wont even stop playing ,he wont come to me when I calls him , he bites me alot…. i am so worried if he needs any kind of training or something can you please help me with this??

  17. Hi I have a 6 month old Male Labrador who is very active. I have recently read about over exercising and worry I may have caused damage to his joints as I have been taking him out walking on a morning for 40 minutes and he runs around a field near us at night paying with other dogs for about half an hour. He also likes to jump for his ball. He always has more energy when he gets back so I wasn’t concerned. I have now cut his walks down but will the damage be done

  18. My family has a 7 month old lab /boxer mix. She had a hard time at first switching from puppy pads to outside… now she has been going outside since January on command. We got her spayed about 3 weeks ago the entire time she not once went in the house nor was she in her kennel. Since the cone has come off she is back in her kennel over night and when we are not home. She has regressed in her potty training. She has a daily schedule but over the last week she has gone in her kennel and the house. Like as if we just got her and she has no training. We walk every evening for about 30-45min. I am at a loss. I don’t want to give her up but this is crazy.

  19. Hi! we have a 6 month old female black lab. She is frantic about her food. We make her sit and even stay (in our laundry room that is gated off) while we get her food and even after we have placed it on the floor. Our other dog (cairn terrier) gets fed in another room and out of site of her, but she finishes her food quickly and then gets frantic to get our other dog’s food. Is there anything we can do to help get rid of the franticness of her wanting the other dogs food.

    • Hi, some people find that feeding at unpredictable times reduces the degree of excitement associated with food. To slow down her eating you could try a Slow Food Bowl However, Labradors are usually very keen of their food, and a certain amount of excitement once food preparation begins is inevitable.
      Pippa

  20. hi, i have 5 month old black lab,puppy male his ear are so small compar to other lab puppy give me suggestion how to increse the size of ears.

  21. Hi, I have a 5 month old balck lab/german sheperd and I exercise him for about an hour a day, I know this doesn’t comply with the “5 minute rule” but if he only gets 25 mins a day he goes crazy and doesn’t sleep much. He seems to be fine and the vet says he is developing well. Am I exercising him too much? Also sometimes we take him on long walks (2 or 3 hours) is this okay just once a week?

    • Hi Natasha, I can’t really add anything to the views in this article at the moment as I haven’t read any research that contradicts them yet. I would not personally ever take a five month old puppy for a two hour walk. All we can do is read the research available at the current time, and make a sensible decision based on that. If your vet disagrees you could ask him on what he bases his opinion, and then make a decision from there. Sorry I cannot be more help. Pippa

  22. We have an approximately 10 week old female mismarked chocolate lab. Since she has settled in she has been very mouthy. We can really only pet her without her trying to chew or bite our hands or fingers if she’s really tired and just laying there. She mostly starts when you pet her head, but she’ll do it if you let her belly or back too. She’s also becoming pretty bad for biting at your face. We’ve watched video, read articles, and talked to other lab owners. They all agree that labs a very mouthy as puppies. We’ve tried everything with no results. Also, she is teething. You can see some teeth coming through her gums.

  23. Hi,
    I have recently got a black labrador puppy (10 weeks old) and I am already worried about his joints. As puppies do, he loves to jump about and run around the house however because we have slippery flooring I fear he is going to damage to his joints. The fear is most likely heightened because my pervious dog- a golden retriever- had very bad hips which in the end the vets had to operate on both, we didn’t have her until she was older so It could of been something to do with when she was a puppy. I know for a fact that our new puppy has inherited great hips from both sides however the worry is still there. I know that I shouldn’t be walking him yet, to which I’m not but when he gets older and stronger I want him to come jogging with me so I want him to be fit and healthy. Am I been too anxious about it all or should I worry as much as I am doing?

    • Hi Olivia, it is difficult to say for certain whether or not slippery floors can cause hip damage, or whether they can contribute to or exacerbate existing joint problems. But many breeders would not recommend you allow a puppy to run and jump about on floors where he cannot keep his balance. Try to make sure that the floors are not too polished/glossy to reduce slipping, and put down rugs where possible to give him a surface that he can ‘grip’ on.
      Pippa

  24. Hello

    We have a 7 month old labrador who steadfastly refuses to get into the car.We have bought a travel crate in which we put food but he will not get into the car at all. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the park and we were wondering if you have any tips

    many thanks

    stephen

    • Hi Stephen, when did this problem arise? Is this a new fear, or has he never been in a car before? If it is a new fear, do you know how it started?
      Pippa

    • Hello Stephen. Maggie Thomas here.
      My husband and I have 2 Labradors.
      Our first Jack is now four and when he was a pup he was very nervous about getting into the car.
      This was because we did not take him in the car for journeys after we had collected him from his siblings and so when the day came for his final vacs he screamed all the way to the vets and after that it was a long process to get him to enjoy the car. This was achieved by opening all of the car doors and gently persuading him to get in and out of the car without going anywhere at first. We did this several times a day and then we started small journeys in the car around the village and country lanes where we live. Now he loves the car and is not afraid of it anymore.
      Our second lab who is 16weeks now has been traveling in the car from day one when brought her home and is used to it and just goes to sleep on our journeys. We certainly learnt our lesson from our experience with Jack our first lab.Hope this helps. Perseverance and reassurance is the key we think,and of course food always a great motivator.
      Good luck Maggie.

  25. Hello.
    I have a problem with our 6 month old labrador Ebony in that she starts to whine at 5am every morning. (she has done this for quite some time in fact ever since we bought her really at 7 weeks old )As we have a next door neighbour with a baby I can’t just let her whine on even though I have tried this.
    I have come down without a fuss and let her out for a wee and put her back sometimes she quietens after this other times she starts again about about 15 or 20 minutes.
    she sleeps in a large crate next to our other 8 year old labrador who sleeps in a basket.
    I have tried giving her some food before bedtime in case she is hungry,she has water in a coop cup so she isn’t thirsty, and I have tried covering her crate with a blanket in case it is the light waking her up.
    We have tried going to bed later than our normal 10 o clock ,tried coming down to let her out for a wee at midnight but we still have 5 o clock alarm. any ideas would be appreciated.
    when Rook was a puppy he slept in his crate while our older dog at the time slept in a basket next to it and there weren’t any problems like this. when Rook had finished teething and stopped trying to chew things we stopped using the crate and he had a basket next to Jess.
    thanks.

    Melody

      • Why not just give in and let her sleep with you guys? Been doing that with my black lab for well over 7 years now. When I go out of town my wife swears the whining stops and she sleeps soundly. Only when I am there does she sit and whine then bark softly for attention.

      • My puppy had the same timings as yours, and I have been making steady progress with pushing her breakfast back. About 2 weeks ago I was feeding her at 6am, and I’m up to 6:45. I also try to be “boring” in the morning. No playing, just saying a nice good morning, taking her out to pee/poo, and chilling out. Then I started putting her back in her crate until maybe 15 minutes before breakfast time. She’s been sleeping almost a full hour later this week! I’m in heaven.

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