Q: I have a new Golden Retriever puppy who I’m hoping will make a good running companion. She’s only 4 months old, but I’m wondering when would be a good time to get her started. I’ve read online that puppies shouldn’t start running longer distances until they’re fully grown. I’ve also read that they should never run on hard surfaces and that they shouldn’t walk or run for more than a half mile at a time. It sounds so strict! Is all this true?
A. Believe it or not, this common question is a controversial one. Among dog people who raise athletes (for agility or hunting, for example), the conventional wisdom says exercise should be “minimal” until pups are fully grown. But that raises several questions: What’s the definition of “minimal”? Does this apply to all dogs or just to athletes who look forward to a lifetime of rigorous training? Is there any science behind this rule?
Though opinions on this issue abound, the truth is there’s been very little research on this issue. One small study found that playing with other dogs was a risk factor for osteochondritis dissecans. Another found that some types of exercise increased the risk of hip dysplasia and elbow arthrosis.
Though these two lone studies are far from offering a definitive answer, they nonetheless appear to have influenced a generation of veterinarians, breeders and pet owners with their negativity. Which is why your reading has been such a downer.
But don't despair. Recent years have witnessed the emergence of more common-sense veterinary guidelines. All we ask is that you adhere to a “no forced exercise” policy until her growth plates close (about 18-24 months).
As to running her: It all comes down to common sense. A dog her age is way too young to keep up. By 9-12 months she’ll probably enjoy a mile or two. But let her energy level dictate the terms.
Conclusion: Sure, caution makes sense. But attention to the positives of exercise deserves a mention, too. After all, given the sad state of pet obesity in this country, I can’t help but think the question should be less about the still-theoretical risks of exercise and more about the solid knowledge that too little over a lifetime kills.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.