So, you just got a new puppy and you’re wondering if they’re ready for their first adventure.
I spoke with experienced dog hikers, vets, and even did a little extra research to give you the best possible answer.
Here’s what I found out…
What do hikers think?
I recently got the chance to ask several hundred hikers how soon they take their puppy on their first hike.
Take a look at the graph below to see how when most hikers think it’s okay to take your puppy on an adventure.
This chart does have a few caveats…
Even though there’s a pretty big gap between 8 weeks old and 24 weeks old they all agreed on two things:
- Nothing long or hard, just getting used to various footing, the environment, and sticking close.
- No jumping on rocks or anything, as their bones are still forming.
What does the vet think?
I love dog hikers.
Many of them are very knowledgeable and most consider safety of their dog (and themselves) to be paramount. But that doesn’t make them trained professionals with a doctorate in veterinary medicine.
So, I also asked a few local vets to see what they thought.
“Free” exercise is always okay.
Two orthopedic veterinarians that told me explicitly that I never needed to limit free exercise in puppies. As long as they’re off leash, moving at their own pace on natural surfaces, go for it!
Free vs Forced exercise
Above we used the term “free exercise.” It’s pretty self explanatory, but in case you haven’t heard it before let’s talk about it real quick.
Free exercise. For a puppy, free exercise is typically any unleashed exercise (because most puppies aren’t leash trained).
Forced exercise. The opposite of free exercise and may look something like this…
Forced exercise isn’t always leashed.
If you’ve ever been on a hike with your dog and it keeps falling behind, and you find yourself gently coaxing it along, that’s typically forced.
Obviously if you’re training a dog some gentle coaxing is necessary to get it used to a new environment, but tugging an exhausted puppy down the trail is not healthy.
A few more things to consider
Bones. Growth plates aren’t completely fused until approximately 18 months old, or 72 weeks. You might note that’s quite a lot longer than the chart we originally posted above.
Weather. Rain, cold, heat, humidity, snow, all these things are new to puppies. As they grow up they’re likely to be even more resilient than you in each of these conditions, but not when they’re young and learning. Always have an idea of what the forecast for that day/night hold during your hike.
Breed. Some breeds, such as working breeds may find hiking or other adventures more instinctual. For example, a husky on a winter trail is going to find itself at home a lot faster than a chihuahua.
Lastly there is a great website called Puppy Culture that has a detailed exercise chart broken down by age. If you’re still unsure if your puppy is ready, I think it’s a pretty good chart to follow. You can find it here.
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