Fortunately for Los Angeles Dog owners we have year round sunshine and warm weather which allows us to exercise and train our dogs whenever we wish. However, what does a dog owner do if they do not always have such agreeable weather as L.A. or are just too busy to always give their dog the exercise they need? I have found treadmill training to be a wonderful solution for this! Many of my dog training clients are surprised (and at times doubtful) when I tell them their dog can be taught how to run on a treadmill with relative ease. The following are some steps and pointers I have come up with over the years to help teach your dog how to walk or run on a treadmill.
The treadmill must be seen as a stress free zone right from the start. Many dogs will jump right on and begin to walk without any concern. While other, more sensitive canines may need to acclimate over time to learn how to get comfortable with this new strange thing you are introducing to them. In order to introduce a hesitant dog to a treadmill properly you can feed them on or near the treadmill to help build a positive association. You may also lure your dog with treats so they may show an increased interest and reduced anxiety while you gradually make this a “fun” thing for them. It may take some time for some highly sensitive dogs to get comfortable with this and always make sure your dog is physically ok for treadmill training too. The key is to just be patient and slowly build up their ability to enjoy this event as they spend more time around and on the treadmill and learn how to feel comfortable.
Staying on the Treadmill
As I mentioned, many dogs will have no problem with staying on the treadmill right away. If your dog though is willing to get on the treadmill for only a short time or stretches to it for a treat, but immediately runs off, it is a good idea to build up some focus and endurance through placement commands like Sit and Down and to help get them comfortable with longer durations on the platform or near the treadmill itself.
Turning on the Treadmill
I find this to be the moment of truth when it comes to treadmill training a dog! If your dog is demonstrating they are now comfortable with the treadmill it is time to begin teaching them how to walk on it. Place your dog on the center of the treadmill in either a sit or standing position and turn it on. It is important to start at a very slow speed and gradually increase as your dog is able to handle it and becomes comfortable walking without the need for your constant guidance and reminders. At first your dog may have a tendency to try and run off the sides or front/back of the treadmill. To address this, have them on a secure leash and collar (I find a snug fitting harness works great for this!) so you can keep your dog centered on the treadmill. This will consistently help orient them to the proper spot and pace they should be walking in (smack dab in the middle of the treadmill platform and a relaxed trot is ideal) Reward your dog via treats or enthusiastic praise to confirm this “spot” is the exact location/task you are expecting them to do. You can even give then a command like “Walk” if you wish. As your dog develops new levels of commitment to higher speeds, longer durations, and inclines, give them treats for their increased performance to help improve their treadmill abilities.
Just like humans, dogs need to develop their stamina for aerobic activity too. It is true that most dogs are natural born athletes and can handle quite a deal of physical activity right out of the gates…However, with something like treadmill training, it can be very high intensity and it needs to be built up to be something your dog will enjoy and be able to handle long term. Every day increase the speed, incline, time, ever so slightly and before you know it you will have a marathon dog in a matter of months! If you really want to give a super athletic dog a challenge, have them run on the treadmill with a weighted backpack or vest. I am yet to find a hyperactive dog who is a match for this intense way of exercising them!
The other benefit of treadmill work is that your dog needs to focus when doing this. They have to be conscious of every step they take. This tends to keep them focused and in “the zone” which is a great way to give a dog’s extraneous thoughts and outlet while centering their energy as well.
To Leash or Not to Leash?
Most dogs do not require you to always hold the leash to help guide them once they are proficient on treadmill walking or running. However, I find it a good idea to always be within arms’ reach of your dog for safety and security. To insure you can quickly react if needed they should have their leash attached to either the treadmill’s handlebars or at least be close enough to grab your their harness in the case of an emergency or mishap.
Small pull tab type leashes work well for this too.
As you can see. If you take the time to teach your dog to love the treadmill it can be one of the greatest investments you make in your dog’s mental and physical health.
As I had mentioned, most dogs learn with relative ease and are up and running that very same day! But even if your dog requires more time to get used to it, it can really be a huge help in meeting their exercise and focus needs.