How far can you walk your puppy?

When I asked “How far can I walk my puppy?” of several people, I received conflicting answers. A friend kindly sent me the following image which illustrated just how long it takes for a dog’s growth plates to close. This made me determined to stick to the 5 minute rule until she reached 12 months, to ensure I gave Freya the best possible chance of being free from joint issues in the future.

However, one vet specialising in orthopaedic surgery, published a blog contradicting everything we have been led to believe. Does this means I may be able to forgive myself when I over exercised a three month old Freya in ignorance? You can read about Freya’s first puppy walk here.

Firstly, the image sent by a friend:

Sketch of the skeletal growth in dogs

In my original article published September 2017, I googled for direction and found The Labrador Site had some really useful information. Dog trainer, Pippa Middleton’s 2016 article covers:

  • Taking your new puppy for a walk
  • How much exercise does a puppy need?
  • How does over-exercising harm puppies?
  • Different types of puppy exercise
  • How far should my puppy walk?
  • How much exercise is too much?

Pippa’s advice sounded sensible to me:

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. 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.

Rebecca MacMillan BVetMed BSAVA PGCertSAM MRCVS
October 2023

Rebecca’s take on the five-minute rule:

This rule is not based on any scientific evidence – meaning that many vets no longer recommend it. The 5-minute rule may work OK for some breeds, but it is certainly not appropriate for all. For example, an active, working breed puppy is unlikely to get enough physical exercise following this regime; whereas it might be too much for some other types of dogs. The 5-minute rule should only ever be used as a guide and needs adapting to suit your puppy.”

“Instead, the main piece of take-home advice is that owners should consider the type of exercise that they do with their dogs. Forty-five minutes of sniffing and ambling around in the park at their own pace is a very different prospect from forty-five minutes of continuous ball-chasing, wrestling with other dogs or pounding the pavements as your jogging companion.”

You can read Rebecca’s full article here

Enter Mike Farrell’s progressive opinion

Mike has a pretty impressive CV, graduating from the Royal Veterinary College in 1997, after years of experience he completed a surgery residency at Glasgow University in 2006 and gained his European Diploma in Small Animal Surgery in 2007. He’s an EBVS and RCVS board certified specialist in small animal surgery. His article relating to walking puppies includes the following relevant extracts:

“In the UK, dog owners are often subjected to the “5-minutes of exercise per month of age” fallacy. It might be easier to accept this guideline fallacy if exercise restriction was safe, but it isn’t. We have published evidence that restricted puppies have a higher incidence of hip dysplasia.”

The 2012 published evidence:

Results indicated that puppies ≤ 3 months old should not be allowed access to stairs, but should be allowed outdoor exercise on soft ground in moderately rough terrain to decrease the risk for developing radiographically detectable Hip Dysplasia.

It’s important to note here that the published evidence was the result of studying large dog breeds: Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Leonbergers, and Irish Wolfhounds. It may have produced different results in smaller dogs.

“As an orthopaedic specialist and dog lover, my professional advice is simple. Focus on keeping puppies lean and fit; being lean decreases risk of hip dysplasia five-fold. If puppies want to run and play, let them run and play. If they want to rest, let them rest.”

I must admit the being lean makes perfect sense, as for the let them run and play, Freya would have kept going for ever it seemed; with Frankie I was a little more relaxed. Personally, I think genes must play a big part. My two now get around an hour a day off lead during the week, longer at weekends.

You can read Mike Farrell’s article here.