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How to Fit Train at Home: Treadmills

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Jul 13, 2018


Why would someone train a dog to walk and trot on a treadmill?

“Treading” dogs can maintain fitness when the weather is bad, their owners are injured, their owners work odd hours and don’t want to walk in the dark, they live in high traffic areas, or their behavior restricts other outdoor exercise outings. Some dogs recovering from surgeries or undergoing physical therapy can also benefit from treadmill work under the direction of a veterinarian. Obese dogs can lose weight with the help of a treadmill! In addition, some owners prefer to have their pet sitters exercise their dogs in the safety of their homes on a treadmill instead of in a neighborhood full of loose dogs - that may charge leashed, walking dogs - or at overly full dog parks.

Service dogs may not be owned by someone who can give them a lot of exercise, so sometimes service dogs have treadmills. In addition, dogs who are blind can also enjoy safe exercise by using a treadmill!

Finally, it’s just plain fun and cool to watch a dog work on a treadmill!

How long does it take to train a dog to use a treadmill?

Dogs learn at different paces so the timeframe varies. Keep you and your dog’s attitudes happy and relaxed during training sessions, keep training sessions short and end them on a successful note, and use treats to help trot your way to success.  Many dogs take a few steps the first session or within a week of intermittent, multiple sessions. Many dogs are confidently trotting for 5-15 minutes after a few weeks!

How do you treadmill train a dog?

Start with the treadmill turned off. Guide your dog to the back of the treadmill and have him jump on the belt and walk to the front. Give your dog several treats for standing near the front of the treadmill. Turn your dog around and have him walk to the back of the treadmill to exit. Repeat this drill a few times and have all the treats happen while the dog is on the treadmill – the delivery of treats to the dog while he is on the treadmill is important so your dog associates being on the treadmill (not leaving) as the good thing! Occasionally, have your dog exist via the side of the treadmill (if the side enclosure rails are removed) so your dog knows that he can exit to the side if he loses his balance or gets too fatigued.

Next, when your dog is off of the treadmill, turn the treadmill on and let your dog hear the sound of it running. You may use treats or praise to reward your dog for accepting the hum of the treadmill nearby. Turn the treadmill off.

Walk your dog to the rear of the treadmill to get up on it and have him walk to the front. Turn the treadmill on very low, such as 0.5 mph, and give your dog a few treats as he stays on the belt during the movement. Encourage your dog to take a few steps. Stop the treadmill. Treat your dog while he is still facing forward on the treadmill and then have him exit the treadmill at the rear. Repeat a few times and each time ask your dog for a few more steps! Use lots of happy and confident praise.

Over time, you can increase the speed and the walking or trotting time periods. Start with a few seconds and build up sessions to 3 minutes. Most dogs will walk about a 2 to 2.5 mph pace and many dogs will trot at a 2.5 to 5 mph pace.

If you need a professional to help you improve, find a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) in your area to help you with a few private lessons!

Can dogs use a human treadmill or do they need a dog treadmill?

Although a human treadmill may work for smaller dogs, larger dogs will generally need to use a treadmill that has a longer belt (or “bed”) surface. If the belt surface is too short for your dog, he may mess up his gait and take steps that are too short and unnatural – this could cause muscle and joint discomfort or injuries.

The belt surface should generally be about 2 to 2.5 times the length of the dog. DogTread recommends another method to determine the needed length - measure the length of your dog’s body (when your dog is lying on his side with his legs gently extended) and then add ten inches.

Dog treadmills are often built to accommodate other special needs – the ability to tolerate some slobber and dog hair accumulation, a console that is out of the way, side enclosures that are low and removable to allow for side exits if needed due to fatigue or an off-balance movement, and even treat bowls at the front panel. Dog treadmills may also be built to minimize noise and vibrations based on the dog’s motion. Human treadmills lack those features and also have a wider belt to accommodate wider human hips. In addition to the Dogtread, another popular brand of treadmills for pet owners is dogPACER.  Rehabilitation and veterinary clinics may purchase more expensive treadmills that have more incline and decline options.

What else should I know?

  • Dogs should not go above a trot on the treadmill – no cantering!
  • Dogs should not be leashed to the treadmill – dogs could get tangled or be unable to exit safely if a sudden exit is needed.
  • Some dogs cannot chew and walk or trot, so watch your dog to see if he is able to take treats while on the treadmill. Beware that any dropped treats could cause your dog to stop walking and dive after cookies.
  • A dog fading to the end of the treadmill is tired – slow the treadmill down so your dog can walk and cool down and then end the session.
  • As always, be sure to consult your veterinarian when implementing new or variations to your dog’s fitness routine.

Stay tuned for the other Fit Dogs blogs by Jasey Day!

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