puppies and exercise

from the berner-l

I hope that I am emailing correctly- that is why I don't reply that often! I was wondering what other owners of Bernese puppies feel about taking their young for walks. My Berner Jackson is going to be one years old on September 2. Another friend of mine who owns a berner said that it is not good to take your berner for long walks until they are around 1 and half years old because they are not done growing. On the other hand I know that it is important to exercise your berner. I take Jackson for walks around the block. What is the best advice for a one year old berner?

Katie, please start exercising your dog more! The thing you want to avoid is lots of sharp jarring of the joints, so running with your dog is not advised until the pup is 2. But a growing dog needs lots of exercise to develop its muscles to support its growing bones. It's the dogs that don't get enough exercise that we see with messed-up joints and bones. Also, if Jackson has any hip problems, good muscle strength will support his hips so that they are not so much of a problem.

By one year old your dog should be able to walk 2 miles (not jog, walk) with you twice a day. Gentle play with other dogs is good too. By gentle play I mean lots of chasing after each other on dirt, not concrete, surfaces, but not a lot of body-blocking and rough and tumble. Many vets even thing that rough-and-tumble is ok by 1 year of age, if the dog has adequate musculature.

Jumping onto the bed and into the car is ok, but I would assist him in getting *out* of the car. Jumping off the bed is not so much of a problem because he's jumping onto a floor that probably gives when he hits it. Not so with jumping out of the car. So we help our big dogs out of the SUV until they are about 18 months old. A ramp is a very good idea, so that you don't hurt your back.

So please, please get Jackson out there and more active. It will be good for his muscles and good for his brain!

I'm a believer in the idea that dog's have a natural rhythm to their movement and that they aren't likely to injure themselves when I work with that rhythm rather than trying to impose my own. I think berners have a varied rhythm with bursts of speed now and then and lots of poking around time. That seems to be true for most dogs except maybe coursing hounds that just love to run flat out for miles. Puppies, very young dogs and their people don't always seem to know their range limitations, so it's easy to overdo it at first. Most dogs (especially BMD's?) will hurt themselves trying to please you, so it's your job to keep an eye on that.

I don't take Bodhi and Jackson (yes, I have a Jackson, too :-) out in situations where they'll have to lope along at a steady pace for extended periods of time with no variation. i.e. - no bicycle rides, no nordic skiing on prepared tracks (although ski touring in the mountains seems to be fine), no roller blading. When I hike with them I make certain to give them time to stop and sniff and hang out in the creek, etc. before forging ahead with my own agenda. It does tend to make for longer duration hikes :-). When they were younger I was careful to pick loop hikes that could be short cut easily if it looked like anybody was lagging too badly. In past winters Bodhi has been a champion ski tourer, pressing on in conditions that leave the rest of us wondering if it's not time to head back to the trailhead. It saddens me that he won't be doing that anymore as his stroke last spring left him with reduced strength and control over his movements and a slightly gimply right rear.

Bodhi and Jack have always jumped onto the bed and into the truck, although Bodhi has stopped since his stroke. Now he puts his front paws in the truck and I boost his back end in :-). I moved my mattress off the bed onto the floor so that he can reach his accustomed sleeping position without having to jump. This seems to meet with the approval of the rest of the menagerie, too. I seem to recall having done a fair bit of sleeping on the floor when they were pups, too. (Bodhi's now 8, Jack's 6, I think).

***Katie, The first person with whom I'd advise you discuss Jackson's exercise needs is his breeder. She should know more about familial propensities for injuries and should be able to guide you here. It's hard for me to say what is best for your dog. What I can tell you is how my dogs live here.

***A guide I use may make sense to you. I convert a pup's age in months to a human's age in years. So an 11 month old pup is like (in some ways) an 11 year old child. How much exercise can an 11 year old child handle? How much is optimal? How much is too much? We'd probably all agree it's going to vary from child to child and from dog to dog. A more awkward child we'd encourage to ride a bike rather than play baseball. An athletic child we'd encourage to find what sports he likes best.

***One part of my considerations when advising my pup buyers on exercise is the dog's conformation. Is the dog well put together? Such a dog will probably handle all orthopedic and muscular challenges presented to him better than one who is not put together well. I don't know your dog so I can't assess his conformation. But his breeder may be able to help you there.

***Unless a dog here is unsound due to an injury, he has access to running full tilt with other big dogs several times a day all his life. If he is the object of too rough play where he is rolled and tumbled by larger dogs, he is allowed to run only with those who do not treat him that way. He jumps up and off my 3 foot high deck; up and off my 22 inch high grooming table at will; in and out of my van whenever I open the doors from the time he is big enough to do these things.

***Our puppies are introduced to a 4inch step at four weeks of age and negotiate a series of four 4 inch steps after five weeks of age. I don't do walks on leash but rather we have free running exercise in our yard and our pastures. What I observe in the dogs I've reared who have this kind of exercise as opposed to dogs I've placed who have exclusively on-leash exercise is that the leash walked dogs will have some highly developed muscle groups in their legs while other muscle groups in the same leg are not as well developed. The free running dogs have better overall muscle development.

***In a nutshell, for me, free running exercise is the best kind of exercise to develop strong minds and bodies in young Berners. With this kind of exercise the dogs can take mini-breaks when their muscles are fatigued. I encourage owners of my dogs to utilize the resources available to them to get this kind of exercise for their dogs.

***What environments are available to you in which your dog could run and play safely off leash?

I have puzzled over this questions with both of my Berners and I have come to this conclusion: it varies and it depends. Too wishy-washy? True enough, but there is no "fixed successful exercise formula", never mind what people will tell you. Others can only tell you what works for them and their specific dog(s), but not how much exercise is best, sufficient, or too exhausting for YOUR dog.

It depends upon : 1) the natural energy level of the dog . A very energetic young dog will benefit from longer walk(s); if he is still oozing stamina upon your return you can safely increase it's length; if, on the other hand, you see him getting fatigued and slowing down whilst still out and about it's time to go home and rest and decrease his walking time for the time being. A naturally less energetic dog will be contented with shorter walks. He might even get to worn out by them. So, to a large extent, let your dog be your guide.

2) the type of exercise offered. I think off-leash walks are much easier on the dog's joints then leash walks. He can move at it's own speed and according to his "natural rhythm". He can flex his muscles, roll, jump, trot, run but in his own time and at his own pace. Also, usually the surface on off-leash walks - as found in parks, forests and beaches - is softer and more gentle on their joints. In addition, off- leash walks are bound to be more interesting for the dog than trotting along a pavement on a short leash and they are more mentally stimulating. I think an off leash walk can be easily twice as long than a on-leash road walk without creating joint problems. If you are restricted to leash walks on hard surfaces, err on the side of caution. Maybe 30 min or so twice a day?

3) the amount of informal exercise he gets at home. Do you have any children who play with your dog? Throw balls, play tug of war? A garden where he romps around in? Another dog who plays with him? If the answer is no, he will probably benefit from longer than shorter exercise. If yes, scheduled outings can ( and perhaps should) be considerably shorter

4) you! The perception of what constitutes "a lot of exercise" and a "long walk" is a very personal one. For some it's a 20 min. walk once or twice a day, for some ( like me) this amount barely constitutes to getting any exercise at all. BUT, I am very active, I like walking, my dog - by choice - doesn't go to romp around in the garden, he is an only dog ( for now!) and hasn't got anyone to tear around with, I don't have kids who play with him thereby exercising him PLUS he is a naturally sedate dog. For example, if I take my dog out together with some of my friends dogs and compare the amount exercise each one of them gets on a mile long walk, the difference is tremendous! Mine will walk approximately the same distance as me, trotting alongside, stopping and catching up with me and saying "hi" to others we meet. The second dog will walk twice the distance by running forwards and backwards, the third talk dog will walk three times the distance by bouncing around, going forwards, backwards and just generally dashing around a lot more. Same walking distance but 3 very different amounts of overall exercise for the dogs due to 3 different dogs.

Personally, I wouldn't go four hour long jogging sessions with a year old Berner. Or for an all day hike. But other than that, if he hasn't got discernable orthopaedic problems he should be able to handle and enjoy any reasonable amount of exercise you decide to give him without any deleterious effects. As for jumping in and out of your car and bed , I feel it's less the height of the jump then the surface he lands on that might be problematic. Jumping on a well cushioned carpet, grass, or a mattress is very different from jumping onto concrete. You might want to consider a ramp for your car if your dog usually lands on asphalt.

In summary, the motto "less is more" holds true for some young dogs for others, "less" is just that, less. They can handle and even need a lot more. Others can't. When my Harvey was a year old he got 2x aprox. 1 hour long "outings". But I didn't spend the whole time walking, far from it. A lot of this time was spent just hanging out with other dogs, sniffing, chatting, a bit of formal training, a bit of walking, etc.,. If the weather was truly abominable, the outings were shorter. Result of all this walking palaver: I have a very fit dog. And I'm fit myself.