PUPPY CARE – EXERCISE AND HEALTHY JOINTS

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Now that your puppy is growing, increased physical strength means more vigorous exercise. As you dig out that old frisbee from the back of the shed, spare a thought for the health of his joints.

Keep joints healthy in the longer run

Chase the ball. Jump the log. Run like the wind. Now that he’s growing up puppy exercises with terrific vigour, which places extra stress and pressure on his joints. So it's worth remembering that doing too much too soon, even jumping heavily from a car, can lead to joint problems in later life.

Exercise helps maintain muscle mass but with puppy’s 321 bones (compared to our 206), this time in his life is a balancing act between good nutrition and increasing exercise levels in keeping with his developmental stage. (Large and giant breed owners take note: the hills may be alive with the sound of barking but your dog could be 24 months old before he’s able to take the high road.)

Try to stop your dog running full-pelt down an incline and lift him from the boot of the car until he has stopped growing. Look for complete and balanced premium nutrition with high-quality protein, the right levels of calcium and glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to aid healthy cartilage.

Large breed puppies and juniors have a higher risk of developing skeletal problems. If their nutrition is reduced in energy, calcium and phosphorus they’ll grow slowly but more healthily into an adult dog. If your dog limps or holds a limb at an angle, see your vet.

Get him running

Split your dog’s exercise sessions into three daily sessions. If you’re low on time, (and let’s face it, with three walks a day, you might be) maximise the return on his trip to the local park with an armoury of throwable toys that will get him running. Frisbees or tug toys will work, but in the end nothing works better than the humble ball.

Rather than using a tennis ball, which will pick up dirt and might get stuck in puppy’s throat, try a soft ball with a hole in it, or a deflated football. Introduce it to him with excitement and awe and that ball/dog love match should soon blossom.

Just one thing while he’s doing all this chasing – do try to stop him becoming a seek-and-destroy missile threatening everything from joggers to sheep. Keep an extendable lead on you and try to pre-empt a chase. If you’re in a high-risk situation, or the moment you see his ears perk in the direction of another animal or a person, put him on the lead immediately and tug with a firm ‘No’. Don’t look at your dog or the focus of his attention. Walk away confidently with a chirpy ‘Let’s go!’. Try not to drag him, just tug, command and loosen the leash until he follows you willingly.

The foolproof recall

Your more mature, curious and confident puppy wants to cut the apron strings. Here’s how to make selective deafness a thing of the past.

1. Have a clear command like ‘Come’, or use a dog whistle. Using your dog’s name is too ambiguous for him.

2. Never punish your dog for returning, even if 10 minutes spent sniffing a tree trunk was preferable to spending time with you. Always reward. An occasional ‘jackpot’ of treats for when he comes immediately will boost your popularity no end.

3. Make hanging out with you more exciting by adding this game to your walk. Toss a piece of kibble to puppy before breaking into a jog. As he gets close, praise excitedly and toss another. Continue until you run out of puff. (For some of us, this is a very short game!)

4. If you're not one for running, but you do walk with a friend occasionally, try this alternative. Ask the friend to hold your dog while you nip ahead and hide behind a tree. As your dog is released use your recall command to get him to seek you out. On discovery, reward with praise.

Training tips from working dogs

At eight months, with improved control and strengthened joints, your dog can work on more than his appetite. Take inspiration and introduce him to the skills developed by working dogs.

  • The art of Schutzhund (the German for ‘police dog’), where a dog is in complete control of his owner, starts with obedience and agility training. Jumping over fallen trees and weaving through fence posts while you’re out walking is an easy way to improve agility. Small breeds enjoy jumping through hoops.
  • Techniques honed from disabled and guide dog trainers could add to your dog’s clever-things-I-can-do repertoire. Master clicker training and teach puppy to fetch the remote, find your keys and even close the front door. Dogs respond to the sound of a word more than the word itself. Sheepdogs in particular respond to a whistle that mimics the same tune or rhythm as a command like ‘Come Bye’. So make sure you always say your commands in the same tone of voice.