Nothing beats a walk in the fresh air and sunshine with your dog. New sights and sounds, smells, people and other dogs all stimulate your dog. Walks can help your dog to be more comfortable with new people, dogs, and situations. But what if it’s 15 degrees and icy or 100 degrees and you could fry an egg on the pavement? Your dog still needs exercise.
A dog treadmill may be just what you need. Treadmills for dogs are becoming more popular. They are not just for canine athletes and show dogs. Every day dogs can benefit from the conditioning and stress reduction that consistent aerobic exercise produces. While treadmills are not a substitute for regular outdoor exercise, they are a handy alternative when …
- Weather conditions are not suitable for being outdoors (eg, snow, ice, extreme heat, hot pavement)
- Temporary hectic schedules preclude regular walks
- Your dog’s allergies or other health issues prevent exercising outdoors
- Your regular exercise routine is not enough for your high energy dog
Other reasons to use a treadmill:
- Build confidence
- Alleviate boredom and behavior problems caused by boredom
- Improve focus
- Reduce anxiety
- Manage weight and weight loss
- Exercise couch potato dogs
- Exercise large/giant breeds when you cannot move fast enough to aerobically exercise the dog
- Protect joints
- Warm up before competition/vigorous exercise and cool down afterwards
Treadmills are an excellent way for the dogs of older, infirm, or disabled owners to get proper exercise. Many treadmills provide a more cushioned surface, known as the deck, to run or walk on than exercising on pavement or hard ground.
Another advantage is that they produce constant movement so that your dog is moving at a consistent pace, rather than starting, stopping, sniffing, eliminating,
How To Get Started With A Dog Treadmill
If you already own a treadmill, chances are your dog will learn to use it with a few training sessions. Most dogs enjoy using a treadmill. In fact, many dogs will ask for a treadmill session. (Keep reading for more on training your dog to use a treadmill.)
Before treadmill training your dog be sure to talk with your vet to confirm that your companion’s health status will permit her to safely exercise on a treadmill. This is especially important if your dog has heart disease, intervertebral disc disease or other back disease, or a knee injury.
What Types Of Treadmills Are Made For Dogs?
Treadmills come in all shapes and sizes, but there are three basic types of treadmills designed for dogs.
Motorized Dog Treadmills
Like treadmills for humans, these come in a variety of sizes and styles. They have consoles with controls for speed, incline, duration, and other functions. Most treadmills for dogs are smaller and have quieter motors than their counterparts for humans. Many have side panels to help your dog stay on the treadmill and focus straight ahead. Dog Pacer treadmills, for example, have preset exercise activities and workout plans. They also have an emergency stop clip which you can hook to your dog so that if he falls or quits moving the treadmill automatically stops.
- Speed controlled by humans, which facilitates aerobic workout and conditioning
- Frequently easier to train a dog to use
- Bulky, take up a lot of room
- Need a wider and longer deck to accommodate any drifting sideways and backwards that may happen as your dog acclimates to the treadmill
Water Treadmills For Dogs
Typically underwater treadmills are used for physical therapy to help dogs regain endurance and strength after an illness or injury. They are also used for weight loss or to help dogs recover mobility. The water supports the dog’s body to keep her comfortable while exercising injured or painful limbs. Being in water also stimulates circulation, which helps remove inflammatory substances from the unused areas. When combined with other holistic modalities like chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal products, flower essences, and energetic therapies (such as laser, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and Reiki), underwater treadmills can be instrumental in helping dogs to learn to walk again. Underwater treadmills can also be used for conditioning and building endurance in canine athletes.
- Effective conditioning with minimal stress on joints
- Very expensive
- Requires additional plumbing to use (or fees to exercise at a veterinary rehab facility)
Self Propelled Dog Treadmills
Self propelled treadmills for dogs come in two designs. Slat treadmills incorporate a rotating belt of plastic or wooden slats as the running or walking surface. Carpet treadmills use carpet on a rotating belt. Both allow your dog to move at her own pace.
- More aerobic exercise and calorie burn because your dog is moving the treadmill deck
- Less danger of falling because your dog is driving the treadmill
- If your dog doesn’t want to exercise, the treadmill won’t move
- Can be louder and bulkier
Flywheel Treadmills For Dogs
Flywheel (treadwheel) treadmills are like hamster wheels. They are self propelled.
- Can be used at any time even when your dog is home alone
- Take up less space
A treadmill you already own will probably work well for your small or medium-sized dog. If you have a large dog you may need to buy a dog treadmill unless your treadmill has a long enough deck to allow several feet in front of and behind your dog when he is trotting. This length is necessary to allow for normal leg extension.
Factors to consider when buying a treadmill for your dog
- How much room you have
- How much you want to spend
- The features you want
- The size of treadmill your dog needs
Before making a decision, read reviews, talk to your vet, and speak with the companies whose treadmills you are considering.
While many of the motorized and self-propelled dog treadmills come with a tether that can be clipped to your dog’s collar, a safer choice is to attach the tether to a harness. This provides more stability and eliminates pressure on your dog’s neck. The harness can be any harness that’s sturdy, comfortable, and does not restrict shoulder range of motion. The tether should attach to the harness over the dog’s back. Many front clip harnesses (especially the no-pull designs) are not suitable for this use because they can alter your dog’s gait and interfere with shoulder action.
The use of a tether to keep your dog on a treadmill is a bit controversial. Some experts advise against tethering to avoid injury if the dog should fall, sit down, or otherwise stop moving while the treadmill deck is operating. Some motorized treadmills have an emergency stop device you can clip to the harness.
There are a couple of other things to keep in mind …
Treadmill work may not be suitable for Pugs, English Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, French Bulldogs and other brachycephalic(short-nosed) breeds. Boxers and Mastiffs are also part of this group as are mixed breed dogs with this characteristic. These flat-faced or short-snouted dogs have smaller nostrils and shorter airways which can predispose them to fatigue and exercise intolerance. They can also have trouble regulating body temperature when exercising. Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Corgis, and other long-backed dogs may need core strengthening exercises before beginning treadmill work as their conformation predisposes them to back injury.
The Importance Of Gait
When exercising your dog on a treadmill, it is important to notice how your dog is moving. The normal quick gait for nearly all dogs is a trot, where diagonal legs move forward at the same time. Pacing is a quick gait in which the dog’s legs on the same(as opposed to diagonal) side move forward at the same time. Pacing occurs for many reasons, including misalignment, fatigue, arthritis and injury. The cause of consistent pacing on a briskly moving treadmill should be medically investigated.
How To Teach Your Dog To Use A Treadmill
- Set your treadmill incline to 0.
- Get your dog comfortable with being on the treadmill when it is not running. Praise and treat your dog lavishly. This may take a few sessions to accomplish.
- Accustom your dog to the sound of the treadmill motor by turning on the treadmill while she is nearby but not on the treadmill. Praise and treat your dog so that the treadmill sounds are associated with good things. This step may not be necessary if the treadmill motor is quiet or if you are teaching your dog to use your treadmill and your dog routinely keeps you company while you are using it. If you’re using a self-propelled treadmill or a flywheel treadmill, manually move the treadmill so that your dog becomes acclimated to its sound.
- Introduce your dog to walking on a motorized treadmill at its slowest speed. Encourage your dog to step onto to the treadmill deck and move to the center using treats and praise. Alternatively, you can start the treadmill with your dog standing on it. Some dogs may require a leash to help them get on and stay on the treadmill. If using a self-propelled treadmill, you may have to move the deck manually a few times to help your dog to understand what to do.
- Slowly increase the speed until your dog is comfortably walking or trotting.at the speed your desire. Then you can begin to gradually increase the incline in the same way as the speed. Never increase more than one level at a time and be sure your dog is working easily at that incline for at least a week before making another increase. Some vets believe that dachshunds and other long backed dogs should never walk at an incline because of their conformation. Walking at an incline puts additional pressure on the low back.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes the benefits of treadmills and provides instructions on how to teach your dog to use a treadmill.
A Few Final Treadmill Considerations
- Consider your dog’s age and health status.
- Warm up and cool down your dog by beginning and ending slowly.
- Take your dog out to eliminate before beginning treadmill work.
- Avoid feeding your dog shortly before a workout
- Never run on the treadmill with your dog. One or both of you may fall.
- Do not run multiple dogs on the treadmill at the same time as they may collide or fall.
- Never leave your dog unattended on a treadmill.
- Pay attention to your dog’s posture and demeanor and stop the workout if she’s slowing or shows any signs of distress.
I taught my high energy dog to walk on a treadmill in just a few sessions. Now she goes in and and stands by the treadmill when she wants to exercise. It’s fun to watch her enjoying the treadmill and getting in some good aerobic exercise. She loves it and your dog likely will too.