Treadmill Training Your Dog
Updated: May 9, 2020
First I will answer the most popular question pertaining to this topic:
Is it safe? Yes. With the proper training done and with monitoring your pet.
Getting the proper amount of exercise that your dog needs can be a difficult task sometimes; be it a lack of time, poor weather, or your dog seems to have extra energy on a particular day. Each dog is different when it comes to their exercise needs, based mostly off of their breed, but also their individual personalities. It can be more obvious on some dogs that they need to drain energy than others. The treadmill is a wonderful addition to your dog's routine, if properly done.
The idea in my house for a treadmill first came while watching an episode (or many many episodes) of the Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan. Whatever your thoughts or opinions of Mr. Milan, please don't let it sway you on this topic, he didn't even come up with this idea. Anyhow, I saw him put a pair of small dogs on a treadmill to drain their excess energy, and this was the first time I had ever seen this before.
In my home we have three dogs, and one of those is our lovely boy Riley, our 3 year old Golden Retriever. If you know anything of the breed, or if you've read my post specifically about them, you will know that they have an abundance of energy that must be exerted. Riley is an exceptional dog, however, he seemingly never slowed down and especially while training his excitement at the door and healing on walks, this made things very difficult.
It seemed as though we couldn't walk Riley enough to drain his energy. Having two other dogs made this even more difficult, one being a puppy that needed training with healing, and the other being a reactive dog, who of course needs training in that area. If I could take these dogs on three separate hikes throughout the day, my problems would have been solved, unfortunately I have a full-time job. (I love my job - so thankful - kidding about it being unfortunate). HOWEVER, I do work from home, so this gave me an advantage.
I first brought this idea to David, my boyfriend, as a mid-day 30 minute walk for Riley while I'm working. What I didn't know, was that the treadmill would become part of our daily routine, for all three dogs, and truly a huge blessing in our lives. As I write this I feel a viewer like myself, trying to just get to the dang Banana Bread recipe, truly not caring about this lady's soccer mom trials and tribulations. Sorry folks let's get to the good stuff!
How to Get Started
Introducing your dog to the treadmill has to be a very careful process, like a first impression, this will be your dogs deciding moment on how he feels about this large and noisy, moving device. This was the way we did it with Reese and Riley which is not a science, just what worked for us:
Make this introduction as pleasant as possible for your dog. I planned our first trial before their supper, making the reward for this activity FOOD! The way to my dog's heart. Invite your dog onto the treadmill (while turned OFF) with treats and allow them to sniff and explore freely. Let them on and off as they please, getting comfortable with this new, strange piece of furniture.
Attach your dog to a leash, you can hold the leash or tie it to the treadmill (with a reasonable amount of slack) and lure them onto the treadmill again with treats. S L O W L Y turn the treadmill on, I'm talking half a measure at a time. This sensation will go against everything in your dogs nature; a moving floor means 'earthquake' to them, so their instincts will say run. Gently use the leash to guide them into their walk. I stood beside Reese as he walked and said "heel" hoping he understood to behave exactly as we do in our regular walk.
Keep it Short
In our first session we went a total of 5 minutes. This was brand new to our dogs and we didn't want them to be overwhelmed. After 5 minutes I did not let Reese run off of the treadmill. He was put in a sit and stay and waited patiently as I placed his food bowl on the floor. When he was released he got to enjoy a delicious meal that he worked very hard to receive.
Rey was the most hesitant to get on the treadmill; she was about 5 months old, I believe, when she was first introduced and it was a bit scarier for her. What I did to help her and since she was so small, was I joined her on the treadmill. I walk beside her, rewarding her as we walked, and saying 'heel' to get her in the motion. We also went for 5 minutes and then she was given her supper after sitting still on the treadmill waiting to be released.
We continued our 5 minute sessions before breakfast and before supper each day until each dog grew more comfortable. Your dog may become more comfortable quicker, or it may take more time - be patient with your dog and don't give up! Within a week, Reese was jumping on the treadmill to get going. He actually jumped on in the middle of my run once, which was hilarious, and joined me for 15 minutes.
It took about two or three weeks before Riley was getting on the treadmill without us basically lifting him on. Rey certainly still does not jump on with excitement but she has gained a lot more confidence on it and no longer whines. It takes some time to make them comfortable and it is up to you to make it a pleasant experience for them!
Our dogs now use the treadmill each day, before breakfast and dinner, for 30 minutes each time. The treadmill is not to be replaced with an outdoor walk, however our dogs truly cannot get enough exercise.
Rey is the one who truly needs it the least, but we utilize it when we find it necessary. Riley, with his excess energy, needs the treadmill when we simply can't get in our two or three walks a day. Are you in Nova Scotia? Have you been experiencing this weather? Drying off a Golden after a walk in the rain is no easy task. (Side note: our dogs have more towels than we do, by three times).
With Reese's reactivity, we realize that if we don't exercise him he will exert his energy in the least healthy ways, by being aggressive towards Riley. The difference in Reese when he is properly exercised is outstanding, so when we see fit, we pop him on the treadmill for a thirty minute walk, and sometimes even a run! It was also a process to train him to run on the treadmill but he is incredible on it.
You can never be too careful when putting your dogs on the treadmill. Monitor them carefully and look for signs that they are uncomfortable or need a break.
Some dogs (*cough* Rey) don't give signs at all and simply just go #2 while walking on the treadmill without skipping a beat. Yes, she did just go outside to the bathroom, and yes she pooped. We always let the dogs out before going on the treadmill to avoid accidents. Rey is an exceptionally special dog that cannot be explained by science, so hopefully you don't run into this problem.
Clean Clean Clean!
My GOODNESS dogs are dirty. I sweep the floor in the basement, where the treadmill is, every. single. day. The dirt that comes off of them while they're on the treadmill is wild. The treadmill gets so dusty as well as the wall ledge next to it. The treadmill is a fan constantly blowing dust around so regular cleaning is necessary. Protect your lungs!!!
Every experience can be different so again, be patient with your dog. We thought that Riley would never be comfortable enough for a 30 minute walk, but he is now a champ! Rey does best when she is on the treadmill with her brother Reese, two dogs can be on together if they're the right size. Sometimes Reese and Rey simply are not coordinated enough to go together and one gets pushed to the side. This is why you have to monitor and adjust, some days they do individual walks.
You can use a weighted back pack on your dog to increase the work for them! 10% of the dog's weight is recommended, Reese is 50 pounds so we use 2.5 pounds in each pocket (left and right side) to achieve this. A 15 minute walk with weight is equivalent to a 30 or 45 minute walk without! Reese does not always use this but it's a great addition when he just needs to drain more energy.
If you have any questions or concerns about this feel free to send me a message! Any tips or experience with this yourself? I'd love to hear about it!
Check out our Instagram for videos of our dogs on the treadmill ! instagram.com/reeses.n.pieces