From the Puppy Pen: Baby Puppy Fitness Safety
I get asked on a fairly regular basis why I don’t have more equipment for puppies to explore and play on in the puppy pen with my pups under the age of 8 weeks. They have a ton of soft toys, chews, tugs, and one relatively stable seat cushion. There are a couple reasons I don’t include things like balance disks, balls, teeters, boxes, paw pods, and other physical fitness equipment in the puppy pen, but mostly it boils down to safety.
The puppy pen is an area that I can leave the puppies without supervision. This means, I want to have the area clean, comfortable, spacious enough they can sleep and play, and ultimately completely safe. All of the physical fitness equipment that I listed above are incredible for the exploration of puppies, but without supervision, these toys can become dangerous.
I am by no means a canine fitness expert, but what I do know is that using equipment for fitness can be done effectively and safely, when approached with good form and monitoring fitness abilities. A lot of the danger of using some of this equipment comes from repetition with poor form. What I know about puppies, is that they are gumby blobs of fluff who are barely learning how to run across a yard without any obstacles, let alone climbing on things that they can fall off of, fall over, or run into. I can’t expect them to have good form while they are young, and if I am not monitoring them, I cannot step in and say “ok, we don’t need to jump off the aerobics step over and over, lets do something different!” Its not to say my puppies never get access to some of this equipment, but it is all under supervision. They have a blast exploring and chewing, climbing and tunnelling. I just put safety first.
Heck, just the other day a puppy knocked his head on a bench that he has been running under for 3 weeks, because suddenly he was tall enough for his nogging to hit. Thankfully it was a minor ouchy. I was right there and was able to monitor him for any additional issues. I’ve also been able to block off that bench so that no more accidents happen. Had I not had my eyes on the pups, I would never know. Just like the physical equipment. If I can’t see them use it, how do I know they are doing it safely?
On this same note, I’ve also been asked about the idea of teaching “manding”. Or basically reinforcing a young puppy to sit to get something (or to get anything they want). Many people use a sit behavior for manding because it is clear that the puppy is doing something to get something.
Remember when I said puppies are gumby blobs of fluff? Well, the next thing I know about canine fitness is that the action of going from sit to stand is also a skill that can be used in a variety of fitness applications. Form is key to healthy fitness, and puppies have little to no form. It needs to be built gradually and naturally. My experience is excessive sitting due to behavioral modification (that’s what manding is), can cause muscular imbalances.
I don’t want my puppies seeing me in the kitchen and wanting food and then straining to sit on the slippery kitchen floor. I don’t want my puppies sitting to go out of their pen, sitting at the back door, sitting outside when they want my attention, sitting when we need to come in. Sit. Sit. Sit. Yes, they will do it excessively because Sammy puppies ALWAYS want something. I have found it to be just as effective to simply ask them to wait patiently and quietly. No sit required. Sometimes sit happens, but its not because it will get them anything special that standing quietly won’t get them.
There are a bunch of other fitness related things I do with puppies before 8 weeks to help them develop naturally. This includes ample outdoor time to run and play in the yard starting at 5-6 weeks (depending on the mental development of a litter). Soft bedding with good traction as their main living surface. The edge of their litter box is only 2 inches and easily stepped over. There is no barrier to climb and drag themselves over when exiting the puppy pen. Rugs and carpets on my slippery floor to keep them from sliding unnecessarily. Making sure they are not over-eating and are at a good weight. There are Tons of other things.
I know that some of this is not the norm considering the recent puppy raising fads I’ve come across. Some of these fads have done great things as far as helping breeders learn better puppy rearing skills, but I really hope some of the more dangerous fads fade away. Hopefully this gives a little insight into what I do and why I do it.