Creature Feature: Treadmill exercise for dogs

20 Jul

BY RHONDA OWEN
I have a dog that’s part border collie and lately I haven’t been able to walk him every day like I know I should. I’ve heard that dogs can be taught to use a treadmill. I have a treadmill and would like to do that if it’s possible. Is it?

A dog definitely can be taught to walk on a treadmill, says Karen Kelley, a professional dog trainer in North Little Rock. Not only can a dog learn to use a treadmill, but he also may come to love the activity.

Kelley has trained her own dogs — among them a standard poodle, a pit bull terrier mix and a French bulldog-shar pei mix — to accompany her on treadmill walks as well as do it by themselves with supervision.

“I have three treadmills and sometimes I’ll be on the middle one and have a dog on each side,” she says.

She points out that treadmill exercise shouldn’t always substitute for going on walks outside. A dog needs the mental stimulation of new scents and sights as much as he needs physical exercise. Treadmill exercise is great, however, for when a outdoor walk isn’t possible or as a supplement to the dog’s other activities.

While there are many treadmills on the market made specifically for dogs, one you use yourself works just as well.

Kelley says the key to successful treadmill training is a slow start — actually one with the treadmill off and at a standstill. The dog needs to be comfortable just stepping onto the machine before it’s ever turned on.

When training, “take baby steps,” she advises. Start by putting a treat on the treadmill belt while it’s turned off and let the dog step onto the machine to take the treat. Do this for several days so your dog considers getting on the treadmill to be a positive thing.

The next step is to start the motor while the dog is standing on the belt. If he’s comfortable with that, then you can set the speed so that the belt is slightly moving. Let the dog walk a few seconds or a minute. It may help if you sit in front of the treadmill and encourage him to come toward you, all the time praising him.

Keep the first sessions short and as the dog becomes accustomed to walking on the treadmill, you may speed it up. The speed depends upon the dog. The goal is for the dog to walk at a steady pace that’s comfortable for him.

Some dogs, especially working breeds who like to have a job to perform, may prefer to run. Kelley says one of her dogs, Dakota, runs at a speed of four miles per hour. (A video of Dakota running on the treadmill is posted on Kelley’s web site, alphadogsK9consultants.com. Click on “Karen’s exercise tips.”)

A dog walking on a treadmill should look like he’s moving with purpose. He’ll hold his head low and forward. His tail should be raised — it may even be wagging as Dakota’s does in Kelley’s video.

When training a dog on a treadmill, Kelley says, there are several steps to lessen the chance of a dog being injured:

 ■ Make sure the treadmill belt in seated properly, runs smoothly and has no tears or loose places where a dog could snag his claws. Test the treadmill yourself before letting your dog onto it.

■ Always use an electric treadmill.

■ Keep the dog leashed — and supervised. He should not be left unattended on the treadmill.

Attach the treadmill’s safety key to the dog’s collar. (The safety key is the plastic stick that goes into a slot at the front of the treadmill. When it’s pulled out of the slot, the treadmill stops automatically.) Kelley says dogs learn quickly that when they pull out the safety key the machine will stop. She says having the power to stop the machine increases their confidence.

The dog’s owner’s demeanor and attitude can also affect the dog’s confidence on the machine, Kelley says. If you’re nervous, your dog will be nervous. You may even want consult a professional dog trainer for help.

Keep in mind that every dog has his own pace — in learning as well as walking.

This column was originally published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sept. 9, 2010. Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Family section.

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One Response to “Creature Feature: Treadmill exercise for dogs”

  1. lauracartwrighthardy July 20, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Zuzu’s already pretty interested, so we hope maybe she can be a treadmill dog. She put her front legs on it the other night when I was walking and tried to figure it out.

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