Labrador puppy exercise: how much is too much?

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labrador puppy with rope toy

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

New puppy owners are usually aware that we should not over-exercise labrador puppies.

But is it really that important to avoid strenuous puppy exercise?

Or have the risks been exaggerated?

And just how much exercise is too much?

The question of hip dysplasia

The current position taken by those advising new Labrador puppy owners,  to restrict exercise quite severely is largely based on concerns about joint disorders.

And on concerns about hip dysplasia in particular.

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

But essentially this is a disorder of the hip joints which is believed to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.

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.

What is the evidence?

A recent study in Norway based on five hundred dogs,  which included labradors, showed that puppies given the opportunity to exercise in a park before the age of three months were less likely to develop hip dysplasia.

Whilst puppies that had to climb stairs on a regular basis during the same period were at increased risk.   You can read about this study in Science Daily If you want to reduce your puppy’s access to stairs, a baby gate can be a convenient temporary solution.

So can puppies’ hip joints can be damaged by excessive exercise or can’t they?

We don’t know for sure.   It seems likely though,  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.

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

We just don’t know.

The advice you have been given 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.

Playing it safe

The evidence seems to suggest that a puppy will come to no harm from given opportunity to exercise/play on a flat or gently undulating surface.   But that strenuous exercise such as stair climbing may increase the risk of poor hip development, particularly (and possibly only)  in a puppy that has inherited a tendency  to hip dysplasia.

Therefore, 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.

You have no way of knowing what state your puppy’s hips are in until and if, they are x-rayed when his growth is complete.   Obviously if your puppy’s parents had low hip scores he stands a good chance of having good hips.

But this is not a guarantee.

Labrador puppies with severe hip dysplasia are sometimes produced by dogs with great hips.   Even if your puppy has inherited great hips,  you cannot be sure that hard exercise will not damage them whilst they are growing.

Therefore you may feel that the sensible course for you to take is to restrict your puppy’s exercise to within moderate limits until he has finished growing.   But how do we define ‘moderate limits’?

How much exercise should your puppy have each day?

Many breeders suggest the ‘five minute rule’     This rule says that a puppy should have no more than five minutes ‘organised’ exercise per day for every month of his age.    So that would be fifteen minutes a day for a three month old puppy, twenty minutes for a four month old and so on. Organised exercise means exercise that you are controlling or arranging such as ‘walks’  or ‘training sessions’.

Puppies under three months old probably do not need any kind of ‘walks’  at all,  just access to a ‘play area’ outdoors where they can run about for a few minutes several times each day.

You do not need to attempt to prevent puppies trotting about the house or playing with another dog for a while, provided that the puppy is free to stop and rest whenever he wants.   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 will enable you to make sure that your puppy gets some well deserved down time.

Keeping a balance

Labrador puppy exercise is not something you should be worrying about. Just try and keep a balance.

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.   Walking is only one form of exercise and is no more valuable or important than games or training exercises.   It is the total exercise that counts.

Once the pup is over a year old,  then provided fitness is built up gradually,  most healthy dogs can be exercised as hard as is appropriate for the breed.

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.

Talk to your vet

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

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Check out our Labrador Training section for more help and advice on managing a Labrador that pulls on the lead.

If you’d like all this information together in one place, don’t miss my new book, due to be released in September 2015

The Labrador Handbook looks at all aspects of your Labradors life, through daily care and training at each stage of their life.

Click hereto pre-order now from Amazon UK, with Amazon’s pre-order price guarantee

 

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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of several books on dogs. She is the founder of the Labrador Site and a regular contributor. She is passionate about helping people enjoy their Labradors and lives in Hampshire with her husband and four dogs.

29 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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??

  11. 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

  12. 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?

  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. 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.

  15. 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 ?

  16. 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 …..

  17. 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…

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