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How Much to Exercise Your New Gun Dog Puppy


Developing a puppy into a solid adult dog is a fun process that takes time, consistency, and patience. It can be confusing at times because puppies have a lot of energy. That energy and drive can lead handlers to believe that their pup is ready for more, aggressive run times. My advice is to take your time when bringing along a puppy. Watch his rate of development, and if you have any doubt then err on the side of caution. Here are some thoughts to consider.

Yellow Lab puppy runs through the field while his handler watches

Two-to-Six Months

Let puppies be puppies, and that means let them have fun and learn about the world. A puppy’s brain and nervous system is almost fully developed at 10 weeks, so that time is best spent teaching him commands and mental skills. His body will be nearly fully developed around a year (15-24 months for large or giant breeds), and that’s the time for more physical work. For now, let puppies run around the yard and then in the fields, woods, and waters. Keep socializing run times short, regular, and less intense. There are other things to work on besides pushing puppies physically in the two-to-six-month timeframe. Save the more aggressive work for when their bodies are ready.

Six-to-Eight Months

This age is a great time to connect with your dog in the field, to establish a working bond, and to help him develop his pattern. Physical run times should begin to introduce the pup to the way you want him to operate. It’s the time to teach him that there is more to the process than simply running fast. This age is good to teach bird dogs to run a field edge or to cast through a cover. The time is perfect to teach them to run a particular pattern as well as a given distance and range. Retrievers work well running short marks both on land and in shallow water. Puppies don’t know their limits, so help them learn how to pace themselves by working in short, focused sessions.

Water Work

I’m a big fan of water work. Not only do most puppies love to swim, but the water also works more muscle groups than land-based exercise. It’s a low impact, strengthening, and conditioning program that puts less strain on developing muscles and joints. Introduce puppies to swimming in shallow ponds with no current and progress from there.

Avoid Injuries

Young dogs are susceptible to injuries, and an injury at a young age can shorten the productive years of their lives. If the dog’s growth plates aren’t fully formed there is a risk that hard work can cause injury. Common ailments are osteoarthritis, lameness, and joint strains, each of which can come from the kind of twisting and jarring work common in gun dogs. Their injuries may not be visible in a puppy but instead appear when the dog is older. Physical injuries can be managed but seldom undone, and that’s why I take my time with puppies. If there is an arthritic injury later in life then I want to know that it came from my dog’s genetics and not from something I’ve done.

The Type of Finished Dog

As a hunter I want my dogs to enjoy doing what they were bred to do. I don’t want puppies to come to me with a shy head. I want them to be happy running, pointing, and retrieving. Pushing puppies too hard at a young age can create a type of mechanical dog that looks at work as a requirement or a job. If you take your time and let puppies be puppies then they’ll develop into bold, confident dogs that run with cracking tails and bright eyes.

Breeds and Puppies Mature Differently

Different breeds can mature at different rates. But littermates can mature at different times, too. I suggest waiting until a puppy is a year-and-a-half old before pushing him to the max. That way you’ll be reasonably sure that all growth plates, muscles, tendons and ligaments are fully developed. I’d also vary his type of training sessions to include a mixture of conditioning work, bird and water work. That diversity helps keep the dog in an advancement state instead of a recovery state. It also helps build a well-balanced dog.

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