Most of you know by now I am a runner.
I started running with my weimaraner when he was about 6 months old.
We cover more ground when running. It’s a great way to “check out” from the stress of life. Running seems to remove the need for training or leash manners. When I run with my dogs, we naturally ease into the same pace. Frankly, it’s one of my tricks for teaching “heel.”
Distractions that become a big deal while walking (other dogs, friendly strangers, interesting smells) seem to disappear while running. My young dog focuses on the task at hand – being with me.
Instead of pulling, he floats.
Treats don’t even matter. For 25 minutes, we’re a team.
When is it safe to start running with a puppy?
My weimaraner puppy is almost 9 months old now (at the time of this writing), and we are doing some light, slow running up to about 2 miles four or five days per week.
This is not a post about what you should do with your puppy. I’m sharing what works for me and my weimaraner.
Many veterinarians, dog trainers and breeders will say you should not run with a dog at all until his muscles and bones have physically matured and growth plates are closed. This is usually around 12 to 18 months, depending on breed. Larger dogs tend to take longer to mature physically (and mentally).
Too much “forced” exercise can potentially cause damage to a puppy’s developing joints, these experts say.
These warnings should be taken seriously.
Yet, people can also take this to an extreme.
I’m aware of dog owners who have carried their young Labradors up and down stairs for a full year. The reason? To protect their dogs’ joints.
I’ve seen 8-month old puppies already overweight because they’re not getting walked.
Their owners fear anything over a half-hour will give their dogs hip dysplasia. (I also fear people are using this as an excuse not to walk at all.)
And on the behavioral side of things, the United States has a real problem with young, healthy dogs being surrendered to shelters and rescue groups. Mainly larger breeds.
It doesn’t take a scientific study to figure out a real factor here is these dogs are under-exercised, untrained, poorly socialized. Just plain difficult to handle.
So, it’s all about balance and common sense.
Personally, since my puppy is extremely high energy (explosive!) and too smart for his own good, I have always sided on getting him out and about for proper exercise, training and socialization. I said exercise first for a reason. He needs it.
For me, the risk of not exercising my particular puppy enough is a more serious risk than overdoing it. Keeping him exercised keeps him somewhat manageable.
Being a serious runner, I know that 1, 2 or even 3 miles really is nothing for an active, sporting breed. Even for a puppy.
I’m not taking my puppy out for 5-mile runs. YET. We’re not doing intense workouts. We don’t sprint. I don’t even throw the ball over and over and over.
These 2-mile, light runs are my way of taking it easy on him. We might go at a 10-minute per mile pace, tops. Usually slower.
And I still worry I’m overdoing it!
Here is the running schedule I followed with my puppy:
This is not a guide. There is no science behind this. It’s simply what I’m comfortable with after discussing with my pup’s breeder and my pup’s vet and Good Ol’ Common Sense.
2 to 5 months: No running other than during play. Plenty of leash walks 1-2 miles per day at first and soon 2-3 miles per day walking. Eventually increase up to 4 miles per day walking.
5 to 6 months: 5 to 10 minutes of slow, steady running during our walks once or twice a week. Total distance per day 2 to 4 miles (mostly walking).
6 to 8 months: Slowly begin to add a mile of running a few mornings per week. Continue with daily walks 2 to 4 miles.
8 to 12 months: Running around 2 miles a few days per week, continuing with long walks.
(My pup is currently 8.5 months)
12 months: This is where I’ll probably start running 3, 4 or 5 miles most days and not worry about speed anymore.
18 months: Let’m run! This is where I’ll take him just about any distance, any speed, within reason. If I’m doing 8 miles, he’ll go 8 miles. If I do 20, he’ll probably do 20. And that’s not a joke. My senior dog Ace did long runs of 15 to 20 miles a day in his prime. Heck, weimaraners are bred for endurance, for running all day long in the field!
Other factors to consider:
Genetics. My puppy comes from a line of working weims where there are no hip and joint problems. His parents and grandparents are competitive hunting dogs. His grandpa is 12 and still works in the field. Remy’s breeder gave me the “go” to start running with him at 6 months. I’m taking a more conservative approach and slowly easing into it.
Spay/neuter. Most of the new research says that early spaying and neutering affects a dog’s muscle and bone development, especially for larger breeds. Remy’s vet advised me to wait on neutering my puppy until he’s at least a year old because of all the studies that link early neutering to torn ACLs, hip problems and other joint issues. Being a runner, I decided delaying the neutering would be best for Remy.
I’m thankful we have a vet who keeps up with the latest research. When people warn about not over-exercising a young dog, perhaps they should also warn about the effects of early spay/neuter. This is yet another big problem in the United States, with rescue groups regularly neutering puppies as young as 8 weeks old. More here.
I’m not saying my approach is best. Perhaps I’m overdoing it with my puppy. No one knows for sure.
This post is meant to start a discussion for those who run with their dogs. I know I’m not the only runner wondering how long I should wait before allowing my little athlete to join me for workouts. God knows he has the energy for it!
How many runners do we have reading?
When did you start running with your dog?
Let me know in the comments!