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You need exercise for German Shepherd puppies to keep them healthy, fit, and more importantly… out of mischief!
But some owners of our breed mistakenly think a young puppy should have “plenty” of structured exercise.
Quite the opposite for your fast-growing breed is true!
By the end of this article, you’ll have learned safe exercises for your puppy that are easy, boost growth and development, and are exciting for both you and your dog.
How Much Exercise Should a German Shepherd Puppy Get?
German Shepherd puppies should stick to only five minutes of continuous, on-leash leisurely walking at a time based on their age in months. So, an 8-week-old puppy can walk for 10 minutes at a time on a leash while a 6-month-old can walk on leash 30 minutes at a time. However, your puppy can enjoy low-impact, gentle exercises for longer periods of time. You can play games that work on their sustained growth multiple times per day safely.
Stop exercising when:
When your puppy tires
When they slow down their pace more than usual
If they lay down to rest
If they’re panting heavily or breathing rapidly
It’s better to stay on the side of caution and limit time on hard ground.
Instead, exercise on soft surfaces, for example:
Dirt paths or trails
Stretching of soft ligaments at too early an age, strains on young growing joints, and carrying too much weight on their overall framework can and will harm your young puppy.
This leads to problems in adulthood which you could avoid!
How Much Exercise Is Too Much?
Your puppy will let you know when they’ve had enough exercise by showing signs of tiredness.
Remember to watch for:
Panting heavily with rapid breath
Lagging on their walks for longer than usual
Stopping on walks and standing
Lying down on their belly or side
If your dog is hyperactive and displays excessive chewing and destructive behavior, they may need engaging brain stimulation to help them use their brains to engage in their environments constructively.
Ideally, you also need to teach them basic commands and house manners. Start now with basic obedience training to avoid later behavior issues. Eventually, your active, adult GSD will need at least 2 walks of 45 minutes each (source). But for now, don’t overdo your walking time as they grow.
The Best Exercise for German Shepherd Puppies
The best exercise for your German Shepherd puppy is off-leash walking and exploring. Until your vet clears your dog as having their bones fully fused (this is around 12 to 18 months of age) activity should be cautious and slow-paced. Up to twelve months of age, natural free running is the best way to exercise German Shepherds. With free running, your dog is off-leash and can stop or slow as they wish and want.
When your dog is on a leash, they will keep with your speed (even if it’s too fast) because they wish to please and keep up with you. Limit and monitor on-leash walks and activity while your German Shepherd is growing.
When walking on a leash, allow them to
Walk at their own pace
Stop and start as they please
Sniff around leisurely to explore the grass, flowers, and trees
Lay down, roll around, and dig in approved digging places
Use a no-pull harness with a design that allows for natural shoulder movement to avoid unnatural gait development.
Try this padded no-pull harness on your German Shepherd to avoid any neck injury to her while young. This design also limits pulling and helps teach nice leash walking manners.
The handle on the back of the no-pull harness makes it easy to grab your pup to stop them from running into a hazard or just to catch them!
Healthy, Safe Activities for German Shepherd Puppies
Moderation and taking activity slow for the first 12 months of your puppy’s life should be your standard. Don’t choose any rough and tumble games, or activities that will cause your puppy to twist their hips and body quickly.
There are plenty of other ideas to try with your new baby German Shepherd.
Keep reading for a German Shepherd puppy exercise chart and specific, step-by-step fun games to keep your new pup happy and healthy.
German Shepherd Puppy Exercise Chart
Activity and Amounts
2 months–6 months
Only a 10-minute walk on a lead for a 2-month-old (add 5 minutes for each month thereafter), then lots of rest, play sessions indoors or outdoors can last 10–15 minutes each time (stop when pup tires or breathes heavily), work on obedience training, include mental stimulation
Only a 30-minute walk on a lead for a 6-month-old (add 5 minutes for each month thereafter), then lots of rest, play sessions indoors or outdoors can last 15–30 minutes each time (stop when pup tires or breathes heavily), work on obedience training, add mental stimulation; slowly add in extra time walking and don’t jog or run with your dog yet
Exercising puppies heavily too early in life may lead to joint damage. This is especially likely in large breeds with rapidly growing and heavily loaded joints, such as your GSD.
Don’t walk your puppy for more than half a mile when they are young. And definitely don’t make them run this distance (source)!
High Impact Activity to Avoid
Jumping, especially from couches, furniture, or cars
Twisting (such as chasing a toy that wildly moves in many directions)
Exercising over hard or uneven ground (especially sidewalks and asphalt)
Keep exercise short and frequent as this is more beneficial than long, infrequent periods of activity.
Walking Time and Amount Chart
Walking Time and Amount
2 months old
only 10 minutes of leisurely walking at a time
3 months old
only 15 minutes of leisurely walking at a time
4 months old
only 20 minutes of slow walking at a time
5 months old
only 25 minutes of slow walking at a time
6 months old
only 30 minutes of moderate walking at a time
If you must use a collar, then use a safe break-away collar that will release your pup in case of an emergency. This type of collar could save their life if they were to get hung up on a branch or indoors.
Choose your collars and harnesses with care.
5 Fun Exercises for German Shepherd Puppies
At this age, gentle exercise should aim to help them with spatial awareness and the ability to sense their position and location in their environments.
Activity isn’t meant to wear them out. It’s meant to enhance their natural growth and abilities. Don’t mistake exercising for a full-on aerobic activity or you’ll neglect their overall growth.
Use activities to help your dog learn about their movements in their environment and to stimulate their brains.
Here are a few fun and easy ideas.
1. Easy Pole Course
Place a few small plastic poles on the ground (such as PVC poles or even a broom handle).
Encourage them to walk over a couple of the poles. They must practice this new skill a few times before catching on to the way their bodies move when stepping over the pole obstacles.
Puppies are clumsy and your pup may stumble a bit. So use this game in a soft area, like a carpeted room or fluffy grass.
Place the poles at different distances so they have to think about their paw placement and explore their body movement. You can make this game more of a challenge by using more poles and moving them in different ways.
Benefits of the easy pole activity:
Develops their spatial awareness
Encourages them to learn their stride
Schedule: 3 – 4 times a week.
2. Gentle Slope Walks
Look for a gently sloping grassy hill near where you live. The slope shouldn’t be steep or slippery.
The aim is to get your pup used to moving up and down inclines in a gentle, low-impact way. Choose a slight slope that won’t cause your pup to slip or scare them.
Encourage them to walk slowly and steadily up and down the slope. As they gain confidence in their abilities, their gait will change to a more natural climbing motion.
In the beginning, they may take small steps and hold their posture and head low to improve their balance and footing.
But, as they grow in confidence, they will hold their heads higher and take more quick steps. Go up and down the small slope no more than two to three times at each outing.
Benefits for your puppy include:
Developing their musculoskeletal systems naturally
Schedule: 1 – 2 times a week.
3. Puppy Tug
The only way this game should be played is with you on the ground at your pup’s level to avoid stressing their necks.
Don’t pull hard or swing the tug toy. Keep in mind their teeth are tiny and may come loose if you pull too hard.
Get down to your puppy’s height and match their strength. Don’t lift them off the ground or swing them around by the toy ever!
If you stand or sit higher than your pup, you may cause injury to their spine and neck as they strain to grab and pull the toy.
Use a gentle game of tug to help them develop their strength, but don’t use excessive pulling with them. Your pup must always give the toy back to you in the end.
This helps maintain leadership in your relationship with your dog.
Works on coordination
Increases bonding with your puppy
Schedule: 3 – 4 times a week or very short sessions as a reward daily.
4. Low Impact Obstacles
Increase the number of objects your dog will walk over. I used multiple PVC pipes.
Use the same instructions that you did for the pole stepping activity but make more obstacles to step over. Get creative and have your dog follow you through your pipe setup.
Now, add in chairs that your dog will crawl under. I have 4 kitchen chairs that did the job.
You can even have them make circles around the chair to follow you, but don’t allow them to jump up and down from them yet. Encourage them with tasty treats to follow you.
Works and improves advanced coordination
Helps with spatial awareness
Increases muscle tone
Schedule: 3 – 4 times a week.
5. Hidden Treasure Search
Buy a kiddie pool from a retailer and fill it with crumpled newspapers.
Bury a treat or favorite toy within the crumpled newspapers and let your pup go hunting for hidden treasures! When they find the item praise them.
Some plastic kiddie pools have slick bottoms, so use old towels to place them on the floor to avoid any slips.
This is a great activity to encourage mental skills, as they must think about finding the item and use their bodies, brains, and noses to find the object.
So they don’t get bored, use a variety of objects to find such as different treats or their favorite toys if you prefer to not use treats.
I enjoy using tiny slices of fresh, raw carrots that my GSD loves!
Benefits from this game:
Increases mental stimulation
Improves thinking processes
Schedule: 3 – 4 times a week.
What About Dog Parks for Exercising?
Keep in mind that puppies are not fully vaccinated against common diseases found at dog parks until they have their first set of puppy vaccinations.
Dog parks are also troubling places for puppies because you don’t know the personality of the other dogs. Some may have aggressive tendencies or play too rough.
Your pup is still developing its social skills. Don’t risk a bad incident at a dog park that may traumatize your pup.
Stick to approved puppy playgroups in your area or known, vaccinated dogs good with young puppies.
Pre-vaccination Activity Ideas
When you get your puppy, they are not yet fully vaccinated.
They could get sick exploring areas that are dirty and frequented by unknown dogs.
For puppies not fully vaccinated, use these tips.
Use your yard or other people’s yards if they are secure, escape-proof, and not open to stray dogs for outdoor time.
Find clean areas that are away from other dogs, such as paths and trails.
Indoor games on a soft, non-slip surface (rolling a ball, mini easy obstacle course, hide and treat games).
Enroll in a puppy socialization class where all the puppy’s vaccines are up to date.
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
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