Adopting a puppy brings both a lot of joy and a lot of responsibility to new owners. Some of the responsibilities can even be fun—but figuring out how to best meet a new pooch’s play needs can also be daunting.
Some of the guidance that can be found online is vague, including advice on fulfilling puppy playtime and exercise needs. New dog owners may ask, “How long should I play with my puppy?”
Puppy playtime and exercise needs differ and depend on factors including the dog’s breed, age, and size. Regardless of these differences, though, all puppies need play and exercise and generally do best with a few sessions throughout the day as opposed to a single, long block.
We’ll explore how to determine just how long you should play with your puppy, as well as the many factors that contribute to each puppy’s individual exercise and play needs.
Playtime and Exercise
It is important to note that there can be a difference between playtime and exercise for puppies. As they grow, puppies thrive with all different kinds of enrichment, including physical activity, mental stimulation, and socialization with people and with other dogs.
Though many canine exercise activities can also be fun for dogs, playtime with puppies does not always need to involve a lot of physical exertion to be rewarding. For instance, a puzzle toy filled with treats—such as the Kong Puppy—can provide a lot of mental engagement for a pup without requiring them to run around (though you can also toss it or roll it around if you so choose).
That said, it is very important that dogs receive an adequate amount of exercise at all ages, and playtime which includes exercise is a good way to begin creating a healthy lifestyle for your pup. However, exercises such as running or jumping on hard surfaces should be saved until the growth plates in the puppies’ legs are finished growing—typically from 12-18 months depending on breed and size—in order to decrease the likelihood of joint problems in adulthood.
Training can also be integrated into both playtime and exercise time, though training sessions should cater to puppies’ short attention spans and should not be overly physically taxing.
Additionally, while it is a good idea to start collar and leash training around 6 months of age (when they have completed teething), you should exercise caution when walking your dog in public places until your pooch is fully vaccinated. There is a balance between health safety and proper socialization that you will need to find.
Daily Playtime Requirements and the 5-Minute Rule for Play
While there is not a concrete rule about how much playtime dogs should have each day, it is good for puppies to play a few times a day rather than just a single playtime session in order to keep them engaged and prevent them from becoming bored.
As previously mentioned, playtime can also provide an opportunity for physical exercise and training; each session does not need to include both, but mixing up the activities so each play period is not the same is a good idea for the sake of enrichment.
Variety is also very important: although dogs may favor certain types of play over others, trying different activities, playing with new toys, and experiencing new environments can all help dogs stay interested and increase their bond with their owners.
The 5-minute rule is the idea that a puppy’s exercise requirements can be calculated by multiplying 5 by a puppy’s age in months; the yield is the number of minutes of exercise a puppy supposedly should receive in a day.
Although it would be convenient for playtime and exercise requirements to be static across all dog breeds, each dog has different needs that cannot be met through standardized equations like the 5-minute rule. Play and exercise sessions do not need to be very long; however, thinking of these needs as a quota may cause a new puppy owner to miss signs that their pooch needs more or less time in a session.
It is important that puppies not be exhausted by their playtime—by wrapping up before they lose interest, an owner can increase the likelihood that they puppy will be just as engaged when the next playtime arrives.
Breed, Size, and Age Make a Difference in Playtime Needs
Figuring out how much playtime and exercise your puppy needs will depend on a variety of factors, including your pooch’s breed, size, and age.
Dogs also have their own personalities and preferences. Knowing the dog’s breed and whether or not that breed is known for a type of activity (herding, digging, etc.) can help you find activities that might be fun for your dog, but it is important to keep an open mind and recognize that they may prefer something else instead.
Knowing whether or not your dog’s breed is usually predisposed to problems with their knees, hips, and other joints can also make a difference in what types of exercises you choose to allow or restrict, especially while they are still growing. For instance, dog breeds that regularly have hip problems will probably do better in the long run if jumping is limited while they are developing.
As previously mentioned, the growth plates in dogs’ legs finish growing at different ages, depending on whether the dog is one of the smaller or larger breeds. Those larger dogs usually need to be a little more careful with high-impact exercise like jumping because their growth period is longer; check with your veterinarian for additional guidance on what exercises are most appropriate for your pooch.
Your dog’s size will also make a difference in their stamina and in what they can do during their playtime. Try not to exhaust a dog during playtime—if you notice this happen, try to shorten the session length or change the activity next time.
The age of the puppy also makes a difference. Though puppies require tons of sleep, the amount of time spent sleeping and napping will decrease as they get older and their bodies grow; their stamina for play and exercise also increases as they grow out of puppyhood.
How Much Playtime Is Too Much? Signs of Exhaustion
While it is important for puppies to have regular and engaging playtime, it is quite possible for them to become fatigued, bored, or distracted while playing. In addition to playtime, puppies need to also have downtime.
Here are some signs that your pup might need a break:
- Your puppy becomes disinterested or distracted during playtime. Though this may not always mean you need to quit the session, if you have been playing for a while and they are losing interest, it is probably time to take a break.
- Your puppy becomes agitated or begins barking. Dogs may bark during play, but barking and losing interest or showing signs of displeasure such as growling means it is time to redirect their attention or take a break.
- Your puppy lies down and will not play. This likely means they are exhausted from the play session and need a rest.
If your pup shows any of these signs, let them rest and recuperate. Keep track of what you were doing before they became fatigued, distracted, or agitated, and try to shorten the session next time or avoid the activity if it is too strenuous for your pup.
Making the Most of Playtime with Your Pooch
Playtime with a new puppy should not feel like a chore, though it is a responsibility that is needed for your pup’s development. If you are feeling bored with the play activities, try something else—remember, variety is also important for engagement.
Teaching your dog how to play “find it”, “tug of war”, and other games not only helps your dog physically and mentally, but it can also help strengthen the bond between the two of you. Just as with children, play is where we often learn the concepts of trust, teamwork, and rules, among others.
While you may need to wait on certain activities like jogging or running until they are appropriately grown, you can still pick playtime activities that you also find amusing and engaging. Your bond with your pup goes both ways: your puppy is building a relationship with you, and you are also building a relationship with them. The time and effort you put into enrichment will help them grow into a good, smart, strong dog.