Most people with a new puppy ask how much play time does a puppy need? Puppies can go from full-steam ahead to napping in a matter of seconds and it can be hard to gauge when the pup needs to rest. The best practice is to exercise or play with the puppy three times a day for up to 15 minutes at a time. You can lengthen that amount as the puppy gets older, but avoid any intense distance running or walking for the first year.
Just because a puppy can play longer, doesn’t mean it should. Many exercise recommendations are breed-specific, so you must research the breed before doing any kind of exercise.
The puppy stage includes a lot of specific needs, like food, training regime, and especially exercise. Those little bodies are growing and adapting to the weight gain and limb lengthening. You need to set boundaries for any puppy exercise.
Avoid any high endurance playtimes like running for long lengths or hiking at high altitudes for several miles. Don’t force a sleeping puppy to wake up and play.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all recommendation for how often to exercise a growing puppy, but the American Kennel Club (AKC) does suggest three play sessions a day.
The key is being consistent as much as possible. 21 play sessions a week doesn’t work if you are doing 6 of them on a weekend day. Stay on a schedule as much as you can. This will also help with the puppy training you are doing along the way.
You’ll need to teach your pup to walk on a loose leash anyway, so walks are a great way to exercise. Start with 5-10 minute walks and build up the length of time gradually. Rest as needed. Let the puppy smell the new surroundings and acclimate.
Take these short walks on different surfaces like grass, concrete, and trails. Introduce them to puddles, ponds, and plants with a curious sniff or two. It’s an overwhelming world out there for a pup, so they need to know early on these are exciting activities, not scary ones.
Don’t try to do a mile walk early on. Short, more frequent, walks are best. Don’t try to take the puppy on a long weekend walk, to begin with, especially if you aren’t doing smaller walks along the way. Any sign of lameness or exhaustion should be taken seriously and just sit down with your puppy in a safe area for rest.
If you have a hunting or retrieving dog, they might like to toss a toy in the house and bring it back to you. If you have a herding dog, they might like to run around in circles in the living room. Play to your dog’s instincts for doggy playtime. This is also a great way to bond with the puppy. You set the playtime to around 15 minutes and the puppy will then soon be napping in no time.
Supervise all activities early on when a puppy is playing with a toy. You don’t want to risk a squeaker getting stuck in the puppy’s throat or swallowing something it shouldn’t. Things like scrunchies and socks can easily make their way into a pup’s belly if you don’t watch closely.
You should not take a puppy to a dog park until your veterinarian has given the okay and provided the necessary vaccines.
Puppies have a downright adorable habit of doing zoomies. This is when the pup runs all around the house, maybe jumping from couch to chair to floor to bed in just seconds before running into the safe comfort of your lap, taking a few breaths, and then repeating the sequence. This is normal and in no way reflects if you are doing a good job. Just take note that the zoomies don’t last long, as the puppy inherently knows a short amount of playtime and energy burn is the best way to get exhausted.
Puppies need as much mental stimulation as physical. There are so many puppy games to build its self-confidence, hone in on that brilliant nose ability, and introduce them to noises like the vacuum cleaner.
- FIND IT: Put the puppy in a crate or kennel and then hide a strong-scented treat in other rooms. Let the puppy explore and “Find It.”
- HIDE AND SEEK: Have someone watch the puppy while you hide in another room. Let the pup come to find you.
- TREAT BOTTLES: Put a few pieces of treat in a water bottle and watch as the puppy tries to get them out. Don’t help, let the pup explore on its own.
Think of the last time you worked on a mentally challenging project. You were probably mentally exhausted after that, right? Puppies are no different. They can get worn out easily as they build their senses of sight, smell, and hearing.
Training your dog is a mental exercise as well and should be done in 15-minute increments daily. The AKC has great resources for training every breed of puppy.
Five basic training elements every puppy should know are:
- Come when called
- Loose-Leash Walking
The great part is, every one of those items is part of either mental or physical exercise.
When a puppy can burn energy in these productive ways, you are less likely to see an eaten shoe or torn apart cardboard box. Use the puppy’s energy for good and not destructive behavior.
What if There’s Another Dog at Home?
Many times, a puppy is part of a family that already has a dog. While you think, “My dog would love a buddy,” it’s not always that simple.
The AKC recommends the first dog be at least 1-2 years old before bringing a second one in. Senior dogs adapt to puppies differently as well. Supervise all the playtime between the two and gradually introduce the puppy into the other dog’s space. Your first dog might take a little time to adapt to the new puppy, and that’s normal.
Watch their body language closely. It’s normal for an older dog to snap at a puppy or push the puppy away. The good news is your older dog is going to help with training by setting the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable ways to play. Praise the older dog when he or she plays well with the puppy.
As far as exercise, the same rules apply as we discussed before. The older dog might go on the morning run with you, but the puppy isn’t ready for that. It can cause joint and bone issues down the road if a puppy is overexerted in the first 6 months to a year.
Prepare for the Adolescent Phase
Your puppy will enter the adolescent phase at about 6-10 months of age. This is when you’ve usually got a bigger dog with seemingly more energy and they are more capable of handling longer walks and playtime. This is also when some of the bad behaviors can show themselves, so keep up with the training and reinforcement of training words.
Don’t give an adolescent dog too much freedom too soon. They are going to be more curious on those walks, desiring to explore more areas, but you need to reign in for safety and health benefits. The puppy that was once right by your side is now more than willing to wander off in the name of exploration.
Every step of the way, talk with your veterinarian as you do more research on the breed of your dog, so you can exercise in a way that leaves them mentally and physically exhausted, and you feel like a master trainer and dog owner. Hope so it’s the best answer to how much playtime does a puppy need.