7 Fun Ways to Exercise a German Shepherd Puppy


If you have recently adopted a German Shepherd puppy, you might want to put your best foot forward and get your dog to be active right away. However, there’s tact and timing to your dog’s activity requirements and abilities. This makes exercising a German Shepherd puppy very different from exercising an adult dog.

To exercise a German Shepherd puppy, you must set a maximum time limit that matches his age, engage in activities that avoid straining his joints, and prioritize high-engagement low-impact exercises that involve more socializing and problem-solving and less physical stress.

In other words, you must introduce the right exercises at the right stage of development. As a large breed, a German Shepherd is considered a puppy below 18 months, but the activities he can engage in at 16 months aren’t healthy at eight weeks old. This article covers exercises that befit your pup’s development all the way to adulthood. More specifically, you’ll learn when and how to:

  • Let him be the indoor explorer
  • Play the self-boop game
  • Get your GSD to follow a wiggling tug toy
  • Introduce tug with your puppy without using force
  • Let him fetch a toy rolling on the floor
  • Teach him to spin
  • Consider assisted swimming
  • Introduce extended walks

We’ll also look at the reasons why you should avoid certain activities too soon.

Three cute German Shepherd Puppies walking in a line. How to Exercise a German Shepherd Puppy

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So, let’s get started with my all-new guide on how to exercise your German Shepherd puppy and have lots of fun.

Table Of Contents

How to Exercise a German Shepherd Puppy

German Shepherds are strong dogs when they reach maturity, but as fast-growing puppies, their bodies need a lot of sleep and rest. Some people might get worried seeing their puppy be so inactive and might wonder how they can encourage activity without harming their dog’s young body.

Fun ways to exercise a young German Shepherd puppy include letting him explore the indoors, playing low impact rope tug, and rolling a ball at short distances to fetch while he is on a leash. Anything that avoids sprints and jumping while giving your dog a few minutes of exercise is best. 

Any exercise that your young puppy can do with you staying put is better than when you have to move around a lot. If you’re moving, chances are your German Shepherd is trying to keep up with you. This isn’t healthy for a very young puppy. Engaging his attention while giving him only enough exercise to take up a few minutes is the best way to exercise a very young puppy.

How Much Exercise Does a German Shepherd Puppy Need?

The first step in exercising your German Shepherd puppy is setting the upper limit when you would like him to be engaged in an activity. That’s why you have to know how much time you can spend exercising your puppy at every stage of his development.

A German Shepherd puppy needs 5 minutes of exercise (twice a day) for every month of age. So, a two-month-old puppy can exercise for 10 minutes twice daily, while a three-month-old can exercise for two sessions of 15 minutes. Follow this principle until the puppy is fully grown.

Up to six months, your GSD will naturally engage in the amount of activity he needs. Your role is to provide him with structure and games to engage in without straining his joints and bones. The rest of this article outlines the exercise and games you can introduce to your German Shepherd. You should never push a young puppy to be active. Be conservative with exercise and err on the side of less as opposed to more.

That’s because your puppy has growth plates, which are made up of cartilage. These are soft and make room for new bone growth. If your dog breaks into sprints or jumps from high places, the growth plates can be harmed. It may also increase the risks of or worsen hip or elbow dysplasia, of which the breed is prone. You have to avoid high-impact exercise until your German Shepherd puppy’s growth plates are closed.

What’s the bottom line?

A young puppy should avoid jumping and leaping around. So that means no frisbee! Not just yet. Of course, letting him chase a frisbee once now and again will be okay, but you just can’t repeatedly allow him to jump up or climb the stairs over and over. Refrain from letting your pup jump off furniture or out of vehicles, and avoid all slippery surfaces.

Learn More About How to Exercise a Young Puppy Here…

When Can I Run With My German Shepherd Puppy?

Now that you know that your German Shepherd’s joints have growth plates that make room for bone growth, you understand that running too soon can hurt your puppy. Therefore, it is reasonable to wonder when you can run with your German Shepherd puppy without worrying about such adverse effects.

You can run with your German Shepherd puppy from twelve months of age but must avoid doing so on hard surfaces or at high speeds. As a large breed, your dog’s growth plates close at 18 months, and running on surfaces or for distances that impact his joints is not good for his long-term health.

Trainers who run agility courses would not allow puppies to participate in this sport until they are at least one year old, for a perfect reason. In the meantime, they will familiarize the puppy with the equipment and start some foundation classes, such as learning to walk through an agility tunnel.

Below are alternative activities that you can engage in without affecting your puppy’s health or increasing the risk of joint conditions such as dysplasia. These exercises start with the lowest impact and gradually build up to extended walking and running. Recommended age and duration are included for each stage.

I also advise getting your vet’s opinion on whether your puppy is ready for jaw and bodyweight exercises and outdoor play. I regularly took my pup for frequent trips to the vet to check on her growth and weight and have a general chat. A simple age and specific breed-mix mention can allow your vet to brief you more precisely. The exercises below apply to German Shepherd puppies broadly.

You can also check out my recommended exercise guide for your German Shepherd puppy for the first 6 months of development. This includes the fun exercise games you’ll learn in this guide and basic walking times, both on and off-leash.

German Shepherd Puppy Exercise Guide

2-3 Months3-4 Months4-6 Months
Indoor
Exploring
Tug the ToyAssisted Swimming
Self-BoopRolling FetchDirected Running in Play
(In Short Spurts)
Follow the Wiggling
Toy
Spinning on
Command
Extended Walks
2 Minute Leash Walks
(Continous Walking)
3 Minute Leash Walks
(Continous Walking)
5 Minute Leash Walks
(Continous Walking)
10-15 Minute
Off-Leash Walks
(Exploring & Sniffing)
15-20 Minute
Off-Leash Walks
(Exploring & Sniffing)
20-30 Minute
Off-Leash Walks
(Exploring & Sniffing)

Indoor Play

  • Recommended age: 2 months
  • Maximum duration: 10 minutes per day, twice a day
  • Risk factor: extremely low
  • Things to avoid: jumping and climbing

When you first bring home a German Shepherd puppy, your initial responsibility is to contain his excitement instead of pushing him to “exercise.” Indoor play is an informal exercise that allows your puppy to satisfy his organic curiosity without causing any harm. For the most part, you let the puppy decide his own activities at this stage.

You may have friends with adult dogs, and hearing about exercising their dog can make you feel like you’re missing out. Your puppy, at this tender age, does not need exercise; he needs activity.

Indoor play consists of informal activities in which you educate your German Shepherd to avoid dangerous behavior while satisfying his need to be active. Any time you see your puppy get tired, don’t push him to carry on. At this stage, it is more about mental activity games and basic training as opposed to physical activity. 

PRO TIP!

Check out the Outward Hound Interactive Treat Tumble Toy from Amazon. This nifty little toy is excellent for young pups. Fill the ball with your pup’s favorite treats through the holes, and watch him paw and nudge the ball around to get the tasty treats.

If you’ve read my guide on training an 8-week old German Shepherd, you’ll understand that there’s very little activity and minimal training before that. Here are some low-impact games that are appropriate for a German Shepherd puppy at 8 weeks of age:

Puppy the Explorer

Let your GSD explore the indoors while keeping a close eye on him. This also presents an excellent opportunity to teach him to follow you. You must do this organically. In other words, don’t push him to get out of his bed and follow you around. Wait for him to get in his explorer mode and start walking beside him. 

Remember not to exceed a period of 10 minutes of exercise in the second month and stop whenever your pup shows signs of being tired. The 10-minute mark is the maximum duration, not the minimum. Initially, your puppy will get tired after a few minutes of walking around and exploring. In each subsequent week, he will be engaged for a few more minutes. 

Ultimately, this is self-paced for him, and you’re playing the role of a supervisor who keeps him from trying to jump on furniture or other objects that are high off the ground and making sure he does not overdo it. You should also sprinkle in short training sessions in between exploring and play…

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Self-Boop

Get your GSD puppy to follow your open palm (that’s facing the ground) and tap his nose when he catches up to it. You might need to use jazz hands to get his curiosity. German Shepherds pay attention to movement so that this step won’t be difficult. You’re waving your arm slowly so your dog doesn’t jerk his neck abruptly. 

Once your pup starts following your palm with his head, simply tap his nose and hug him. After a few passes, you’ll notice that he connects his nose to your palm when he catches up. At this point, you might be tempted to start moving your arm out of his reach to prolong the game. Still, you must remember the reason you’re playing: to give your German Shepherd pup extremely low levels of activity that satisfy his mental energy.

Follow the Wiggling Toy

This is the ideal transition exercise that I would start around the tenth week of indoor play. You’ll first need to have a tug toy that is different in texture, thickness, and color from your puppy’s leash. For this, I recommend the Pacific Pups Rope Toys Set from Amazon, not just because it is budget-friendly but because you can use the toys of different sizes as your German Shepherd puppy continues to grow. You’ll also be supporting this non-profit animal rescue organization.

Assuming you have the tug toy, you’ll need to put your German Shepherd on a leash and sit on the floor. Once you have him sitting close to you, introduce the rope toy and place it on the floor with your hand holding onto one end. 

Depending on your GSD’s natural curiosity, he might fixate on the toy right away, or you may need to wiggle and shake it a little to get his attention. Once you have his attention, you’ll notice that he starts following the toy to grab it. Your job then is to make sure he takes at least four steps before he catches the rope toy. Again, this is a high-engagement, low impact exercise that builds up the foundation for medium-impact activities later on.

Jaw and Bodyweight Exercises

Two German Shepherd puppies playing tug-o-war in the garden.
  • Recommended age: 3 – 4 months
  • Maximum duration: 15-20 minutes per day, twice a day
  • Risk factor: low
  • Things to avoid: sprints

Your German Shepherd puppy is now three months old; he is building on his training according to the standard puppy training methods, and you can start to interact with him more physically. Still, his growth plates remain open, and you still need to avoid exercises that strain the joints, especially ones located around long bones like limbs.

At the same time, your German Shepherd has more energy and may want to exercise more than is good for him. As a result, your role has shifted.

At this stage, you make sure that you manage to exhaust your German Shepherd’s energy reserves through exercises that do not strain his joints. Since your pup’s jaws aren’t at the same level of risk as his limbs, you can safely start engaging in activities that involve tugging and biting as he learns his bite inhibition.

Tug the Toy

If you’ve played “follow the wiggling toy,” then your German Shepherd is now ready for this stage. Here, instead of letting your puppy have the toy once he follows it and grabs hold of it, you play a small tug of war with him. What’s important is that you use a different toy to avoid confusion. 

If your GSD is used to getting the toy after following it, he may get too defensive when you tug it. I recommended the toy set for this reason precisely. You can switch out the toys, and the fact that it’s a different toy can help your puppy keep an open mind. The final thing worth remembering about this game is that you always lose!

You place the rope toy on the ground and let your German Shepherd puppy follow it as you move it around. Once he grabs hold of it, you use your arm strength to keep it in place. Do not try to pull it too hard. Since you only keep the toy in place, the dog doesn’t risk straining his neck. It is also essential that you gradually move up the tug of war in time and position.

As you progress, you’ll keep the toy on the ground. Once he catches it, you’ll only hold on for ten seconds and let it go. The next day, you’ll hold on for a few more seconds, and your German Shepherd will start expecting some resistance. 

He might yank hard at first but won’t continue doing so for long. Gradually you can move the tug toy slightly above the ground. Throughout this, make sure your dog is on a leash because you do not want to encourage grabbing and dashing. It’s also always better to control your young pup’s environment.

Ultimately, you have to let your puppy win! As soon as you release the toy, he gets to have it for a while. This is also the best stage to train him to release objects on command. It might take some negotiation before he’s willing to let you go another round. GSD’s have a strong resolve and aren’t very fond of giving up their prize!

Rolling Fetch

This exercise is exactly what its title implies: you play “fetch,” but roll the ball instead of throwing it. Make sure your GSD is on a long leash before you start this activity. Again, you don’t want to chase him if he moves away too quickly. Associating running with playtime is risky. A long loose leash allows you to bring him back to you gently.

Be prepared to spend a lot of time negotiating with your GSD. This exercise is simple, and while it is about following the ball for your pup, it’s about being patient for you. I suggest playing tug before this because it builds trust. Once your dog knows that whenever he gives up what he’s biting on, you reward him with another round of tug or fetch, he will be more willing to let go of the toy/ball.

When you roll the ball on the floor, your puppy will get it. You can anchor the “GET IT” command at this stage. You cannot expect him to bring the toy to you. That’s where the leash comes in handy. You simply tug the leash gently and bring him close to you. 

Then, you hold the ball in place. You should not pull it away. That will only cause your German Shepherd to bite down on it harder. When you have it firmly in place, your dog will try to wrestle it free but will eventually let the ball go. You can encourage this by just talking to him in a reassuring tone and using training treats. German Shepherd puppies are incredibly clever, and he’ll soon understand your tone.

As soon as he lets go of the ball, put it on the ground and roll it. This reinforces the idea that you don’t take things away permanently. As GSDs take pleasure in high engagement activities, the activity itself becomes a reward. 

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  1. Walk Your Dog With Love No-Pull Harness. I love this harness, and it’s what I use. There’s just no way your dog can pull. It’s easy to fit and inexpensive. You can read my full review here.
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  3. FURminator Undercoat deShedding Tool. I’ve tried many others, but this grooming tool is by far the best. It gets right through to the undercoat and easily removes all the loose hair.
  4. KONG Classic. I love KONG toys as they’re super tough and made for your German Shepherd’s teeth! The Classic Toy is fun to chew, chase, and fetch or even stuff with tasty treats.
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My full list of recommendations can be found here.

In a few days, you’ll notice that he brings the ball to you and voluntarily lets it go. In my experience, this will always be a mixed bag. Some dogs never stop giving pushback at the retrieval stage, while others let go of the ball the moment you extend your arm towards it. My German Shepherd is still not keen on releasing whatever is in her mouth, whether it’s her favorite ball or a stick!

Spinning on Command

This is a fun exercise that you must use conservatively as it can get your German Shepherd puppy quite dizzy! By now, your dog already understands that following a wiggling toy leads to an interesting game like “tug of war.” This is the ideal time to introduce him to the “SPIN” command. 

Start with the tug toy on the floor and let your pup follow it but before he grabs it, bring your hand and the toy up to his natural eye level. If you raise the toy too high off the ground, your German Shepherd will likely jump. We don’t want that just yet, exactly like we don’t want our pup climbing the stairs.

Then lead your dog in a broad circle as you move the tug rope. Once he completes a 360-degree turn, feel free to let him grab the toy. Do this a few times till he is no longer pondering what’s going on. You have to make a pattern predictable before you can introduce and anchor a command with a reward.

As soon as you can take his spinning for granted and easily get him to spin following the toy, you can start saying the word “SPIN” whenever you take him through the circuit. You might need to do three to five spins per session while asserting the command to establish the association.

Always follow up with lots of positive reinforcement, including training treats. After a week of doing this, you can try commanding your German Shepherd to spin while making a broad whirling hand gesture. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when he pulls it off.

If your puppy is unable to execute the command, don’t worry. The goal is to give him something to do, not to accelerate his learning process. Spinning isn’t more important than your relationship with your dog. Do not lean on scolding or any form of punishment. Return to using a tug toy and work on establishing the command. Above all, do not exceed the recommended maximum duration.

Related: Disciplining a German Shepherd for Biting: The Do’s & Dont’s

Introductory Limb Exercises

  • Recommended age: 4 – 6 months
  • Maximum duration: 20-30 minutes per day, twice a day
  • Risk factor: standard
  • Things to avoid: prolonged exposure and unsupervised activity

Once your puppy is past the four months mark, his limbs are strong enough for some level of extended exercise. At four months, you can safely exercise your German Shepherd puppy for two twenty-minute sessions. Still, his growth plates remain open, but gradually they’ll calcify and transforms into denser bone as he matures. Nonetheless, you still need to avoid activities that stress the joints.

Unfortunately, your German Shepherd’s instincts can no longer be taken as an accurate indicator of his needs. Your puppy will want to run and jump and stay out for longer than is recommended. This is normal for a developing and inquisitive puppy! A good tip is to exercise on grass instead of hard surfaces.

Ensure the activity does not exceed 30 minutes per session at 6 months old, and if your pup shows signs of getting tired well before that, let him rest and terminate the session. We’ll start with swimming before longer outdoor walking sessions because swimming is easier on the joints yet helps exercise the limbs. This way, your GSD will have strong legs before he starts properly walking, hiking, or jogging outdoors with you.

Assisted Swimming

The first thing you need to know is that German Shepherds are not natural swimmers, and my girl will agree! She loves dipping in the local pond to cool down, but she rarely goes out of her depth! The second one is that this article isn’t about teaching your puppy to be an independent swimmer. That would require its own post. 

That’s why the exercise mentioned here is assisted swimming, which you can later use to get your puppy more used to swimming if you choose to. For this, you’ll need to have a pool or attend doggy swimming classes.

If you’re lucky enough to have a pool, the next step is to fill it with just enough water for it to be fun for your dog. Carry him into the pool and keep your hands near his chest and belly. Yes, you’re going to keep your pup afloat while he only moves his paws. Keep him horizontal in the pool as he “walks” inside the water.

Once your German Shepherd gets the hang of it, you’ll be able to exercise his legs in the water without affecting his joints too harshly. After a few sessions of this, you can get him a lifesaver vest like the Outward Hound Life Jacket from Amazon, which allows you to take your hands off. I don’t recommend using the vest right away because you need to be with him when introducing him to an unfamiliar activity. 

Introducing Extended Walks

Finally, we reach the sixth month, where you can exercise your German Shepherd by taking him on extended walks. Most dogs can now exercise for two thirty-minute sessions a day. But by swimming consistently for short periods leading up to this, your puppy has cultivated enough limb strength to go on longer walks without harming his developing joints.

This is also the gateway to standard adult dog exercise. In other words, you’ll only need to gradually increase the walk time by five minutes a month until your German Shepherd is 12 months old when he’ll be exercising for the recommended walk-time of an hour.

The age of your dog dictates the transition from micro-walks to proper walks. You have to make sure he doesn’t run or tug too hard on his leash until then. Teaching your German Shepherd not to exert too much force and learn to walk appropriately alongside you at this age is a good idea. When he’s fully grown, he will have the strength to drag you along if you’re not careful!

If you find your German Shepherd is a puller, check out my review of the Walk Your Dog With Love no-pull harness. This is the harness that my girl uses, and I highly recommend it. It’s a front clip harness that allows you to lead your doggo from the front giving you more control.

Final Thoughts

Your 8-week old German Shepherd puppy needs minimal exercise, and his own enthusiasm for activity is most likely the best indicator of how long he should engage in play and exercise.

Start with baby steps and use the daily times and exercise guide as a benchmark. As your puppy matures, you can gradually increase the type and length of exercise, leading to more strenuous activity and play as an adult. Most importantly, listen to your puppies’ body language and what he is trying to tell you.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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