Lets talk about... Puppies!!! Being out and about there are so many people in our area that have gotten new 4 legged family members and partners, so we thought now would be a good time to address some puppy facts. Hopefully we can address some of the basic physical considerations when raising a puppy and provide some resources to look for more information so you can raise a sound healthy puppy.
First, remember that puppies are still growing. It seems simple, right? But I think a lot of people forget this basic fact. I have attached a chart from Wizard of Paws that demonstrates exactly when the growth plates close. They have done such a great job with this, I didn't think I could do better really. As you can see in the diagram, the different bones have growth plates that close at different times. There are ranges for the closure, which vary from dog to dog and breed to breed. Large breed dogs will have growth plates that close later than smaller breed dogs. One of the most critical areas of growth is at the tibia, and it is one of the last growth plates to close. The reason this area is so important is because it helps to determine the health of the stifle (knee) later on in life.
In my opinion, all sporting dogs should have their hips and stifles radiographed (xrayed) at 12 months of age. This should be done before the dog is put into heavy work and before they are jumping full height. In breeds where there is a history of elbow issues (ex. German Shepherd Dogs), they should also have their elbows radiographed. By taking these radiographs at an early age, we can determine if the dog is ready to be put into full work or jump full height. Also, if there is a problem, it allows us time to develop a treatment strategy to help the dog have the best outcome long term. If we start working puppies before their growth plates are closed we run the risk of causing long term damage to the growth plates and joints. It is important to also factor in that when puppies are spayed or neutered before their growth plates are closed, this delays the closure of the growth plates.
Secondly, lets think about exercise. As discussed above, puppies are still growing. Their nervous systems are still developing and making connections. Therefore, this is the perfect time to start some proprioceptive exercises. In general, I look at three age groups when deciding what exercises are appropriate: less than 6 months, 6-12 months, and greater than 12 months. Puppies under 6 month old are growing at an exceptional rate. Therefore we need to help them most at this stage to learn where their bodies are in space - proprioception. They do not need to be doing strength training or running marathons at this age.
So with puppies under 6 months, work on - backing up, balancing, side stepping, pivoting, waving, circling an object, puppy pushups, etc. They should be doing short bursts of activity outside at their own pace, and this is a good time to introduce a puppy to swimming. Also, we can start our skill training, within reason. Starting to learn to wrap a standard for agility, sit, down, come, stay, and all the other basic life skills. At this age they should not be going for walks much longer than 15 minutes and they should not be doing multiple sets of stairs or uncontrolled stairs. Then, when they hit 6 months, we can work a little bit more on strength training. Purposeful core work and moderate strength training- more challenging peanut and disc work, beg, roll over, etc. Activity should still be kept low impact until closer to 12 months. Jump work should not be done over elbow height at this age. Also, closer to 12 months we can start introducing puppies to low contacts for agility training. Free, off leash exercise should be increased slowly. When the puppies are around 12-16 months (and have had their growth plates radiographed), we can start to increase their impact exercises (ex. jumps and contacts) to full height and start weave pole training. They should be on a program of regular strength training 3-4 days per week. Also, they can start having an increase in endurance activity of walking 20 or more minutes approximately 5 days per week. Puppies should have no forced exercise (ex. go for a run), until at least 14-16 months of age and their growth plates are all fully closed - so if your puppy is spayed/neutered then you'll need to wait longer.
Finally, surface, surface, surface. When our puppies are growing it is important to consider the surfaces we are asking them to live on and perform on. When out for a walk, we should allow puppies to walk on grass not concrete. Try to do training on a matted or softer surface. Limit the access to tile/wood/laminate flooring where the puppy can slip or injure itself. Walking/running on concrete or hard surfaces can add up to microtrauma on a joint and show up down the road as joint damage. Along the same vein, young puppies should not be allowed to jump on and off the bed/furniture onto hardwood/tile floors. It might not seem like much but that repetitive trauma on young joints can add up over time.
I hope you have learned something from this short discussion. Please contact us or your regular veterinarian if you have any follow-up questions. I have pasted a series of links below to some great resources for more puppy information. If you are unsure of what is a good activity for your puppy contact your local rehabilitation/sports medicine veterinarian and have them help you with a plan. Good luck and happy playing!! - Lisa Woodside, DVM, CCRT, CVSMT
PS Don't forget to "check the credentials" http://totofit.com/check-the-credentials-by-dr-jaime-jackson-bvsc-ccrt/
Canine and Feline Epiphyseal Plate Closure and Appearance of Ossification Centers http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/saortho/appendix_c/appc.htm
Canine Rehabilitation Institute http://www.caninerehabinstitute.com/find_a_therapist.html
Fenzi Dog Sports Academy https://fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/fun-and-fitness
Juvenile orthopedic diseases of dogs and cats http://todaysveterinarypractice.epubxp.com/i/666832-may-jun-2016/40 p. 38
Puppy Class - Silvia Trkman http://www.lolabuland.com/online-classes/puppy-class/
Puppy Culture Poster https://www.puppyculture.com/new-exercise-chart.html
The Agility Advantage, Dr. Chris Zink https://www.caninesports.com/store/p8/The_Agility_Advantage_by_M._Christine_Zink.html
TotoFit Blog http://totofit.com/blog/
University of Tennessee - CCRP Program https://www.utvetce.com/find-a-pro