Q. A reader from Durham emailed me, “My New Year’s resolution is to exercise more often. I just got a puppy as a gift and was wondering if you know when it is okay to include them on my morning runs?”
A. Obviously this question required some expertise in canine anatomy and physiology so I consulted with a local vet and friend of mine that trains at our facility. Dr. Richard Hawkins of Colony Park Animal Hospital writes: As a veterinarian, I am often asked the question “Is it okay to run with my puppy?” Today, with our more health conscious society, we are all looking for outlets for exercise. Running has always been something we have done to improve our cardiovascular health, and running with your dog can certainly make this a more enjoyable experience.
So, when is it okay to run with your puppy? There are not any definitive studies to show when you can include your puppy in your run. However, there is some practical information you should consider before having your dog run with you, especially for long distance runs.
A dog’s bone growth plates will close anywhere between 6 months and 2 years, depending on the breed. Size correlates with growth plate closure. The larger the breed, the longer it takes for growth plate closure. Therefore, it is not advisable to “force” exercise on dogs until their growth plates close. The repetitive running motion on young dogs could potentially harm their growth plates and predispose them to various juvenile bone disorders. Although genetics is a primary factor in Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia, excessive exercise may contribute to the development of these disorders.
Breeds and Dog Groups: Certain dogs are better suited to run longer distances and have more stamina than others. It is not advisable to expect toy breeds and short legged dogs to be able to run like herding, sporting, or hunting dogs are able to. The stride length for short legged dogs requires them to run that much harder than the more “leggy” dogs. The more lean dogs, such as herding dogs, can endure more exercise than large breed dogs, such as boxers, bulldogs, and those breeds with more narrow airways.
* Use common sense! If your puppy wants to run and play with you, that is okay. However, do not force your puppy to exercise. If your puppy needs to rest, allow for that.
* Make sure your puppy has water available after exercise.
* Start with shorter distances and times and work up to longer distances and times. For most breeds at 6 months, you should start with a 10 to 15 minute slow run, and then gradually add to that each month.
* It is better to run on surfaces such as turf as opposed to roadways and sidewalks made of concrete. It is also important to work on your puppy’s core body strength, balance and coordination, just as it is with people. This will enable them to become better athletes and avoid injuries, such as ligament and soft tissue damage. Certain breeds have higher risks for various juvenile bone and joint disorders. Have your puppy evaluated by your veterinarian before you start your exercise programs. This may require an exam and x-rays for evaluating bone structure.
* If you notice your puppy having difficulty getting up and down after exercise, see your veterinarian.