Chapter 11: Indoor Walks - The Treadmill
A treadmill is a wonderfully safe way to help your dog get the extra exercise that he or she needs.
Why A Treadmill?
You can use a treadmill to:
No commands required - just praise (ie. good boy/girl).
But what about the command come so you can get the dog to the treadmill in the first place?
Well, one of the cardinal rules of dog psychology is that when you plan to do something that a dog considers unpleasant (eg. medicine, bath time, nail clipping, etc) go to the dog rather than calling the dog to come to you. So unless your dog loves the treadmill, don't use the command come but instead go to him or her when it’s time for a session.
Equipment Needed For The Treadmill
What Kind Of Treadmill?
All you need is a regular treadmill. You can easily rig it up for your dog's use simply by adding a harness and a lead.
Look for a treadmill that’s:
The Sports Store
It’s ideal to go to the sports store with your dog to try before you buy. Call beforehand to see be sure the store manager is dog-friendly.
Tips For The Trip To The Sports Store
Your dog might be that sport store’s first canine customer. You want other dogs to be welcome there in the future, so make a good impression by:
Love At First Sight?
Take along treats to ensure a pleasant first encounter, but don’t expect your dog to fall in love with treadmilling.
Examples: Jake And Jasmin
Having said that, my dog Jasmin runs into the room and jumps onto the treadmill when she hears it being programmed (sometimes she even stands or sits on it at random times during the day).
In fact, she seems to quite enjoy going on the treadmill with Jake. She doesn’t mind it too much on her own either, but definitely prefers having company.
On the other hand, Jake, although he tolerates it, doesn’t show any real liking for the treadmill - either on his own or with Jasmin.
How Will Your Dog Feel About The Treadmill?
There's no telling. Your dog could go either way, but as long as he or she tolerates it, regular use of the treadmill will greatly benefit your energetic canine companion.
In The Sports Store: The Test
For the initial test, your dog needs to be wearing a harness and you need to have treats ready. Here’s the procedure:
To make treadmilling for your dog safe, attach a lead to one of the handlebars. Taller dogs will need a shorter lead, and smaller dogs will need a longer lead. Experiment to find the right length so that your dog can comfortably walk without any danger of falling off the back of the machine.
Your dog will need a harness when using the treadmill. Any comfortable harness will do as long as it's not a front-attaching one.
Different Harnesses For Different Things
A harness is a versatile piece of equipment.
Besides a treadmill, your dog will also wear a harness when you use a recall lead (Chapter 12:In The Park Using A Recall Lead) and wheeled equipment (Chapter 14: Putting The Wheels In Motion). Plus, a harness can be used for securing your dog into a car, carrier, stroller, trailer, or bike basket.
You can have a separate harness for each activity you do with your dog. That way your dog will build an association between particular harnesses and particular activities. It’s not necessary, but it’s an option.
Another choice is to use the same harness for everything. I use the same harness for everything except the treadmill (the reason for which I’ll explain right now…).
One Dedicated Harness
I permanently house one harness on each handlebar of the human treadmill I use for my dogs. And those harnesses are the only harnesses that Jake and Jasmin wear on the treadmill.
The reason is that my dogs don't exactly adore the treadmill and I don’t want them to feel tricked - thinking that, for example, they're going for a car ride and ending up on the treadmill - and start avoiding me when I have a harness in my hands. (Being transparent with your dog so that he or she feels able to trust you is an enormously important part of your relationship with your dog - and trickery has no place in an honest relationship.)
Do the same if your dog doesn't adore the treadmill. If your dog loves the treadmill, then this won't be an issue - use whatever harness you want.
Use A Fan
Dogs can’t sweat to lose heat like humans do, so on warm days you must put a fan on for your treadmilling dog.
There’s no need to blast the dog with the fan at close range, especially if it’s a very powerful fan. Point the fan in your dog’s direction with some distance between the dog and the fan.
Stay With The Dog
You must NOT leave the room when your dog is on the treadmill - always, always, always supervise.
What Should You Do While Your Dog Treadmills?
If you have the room and money to buy two treadmills - one for you and one for your dog - an obvious option is to get on your treadmill while your dog uses his or hers.
If you have just the one treadmill, stay active so that your dog has something to look at while he or she walks (presumably being on a treadmill is just as boring for a dog as it is for a human). An idea is to do some exercises of your own like Pilates, Yoga, dancing, stretching, or weights.
If your dog is treadmilling because you’re unwell you (of course) shouldn’t exercise. So get a book to read, a DVD to watch - whatever you need to keep yourself entertained and in the room while your dog treadmills.
Although you’ll be occupied with an activity while in the room with your treadmilling dog, you must regularly look up from your activity and check up on your dog for any signs of anxiety.
For example, if the dog displays body language cues of discomfort (like looking around nervously and continuously licking his or her lips) then you need to lower the speed. If that doesn’t stop the nervous behaviour, put an end to the session - your dog might be feeling a little off.
Distractions From Other Dogs
When I first got the treadmill, it wasn’t uncommon for one dog to decide it’s time to play while the other was on the treadmill. With some timely verbal reprimands from me, they both clued in pretty quickly that treadmill time is no time for play.
While your dogs are getting acquainted with this rule, you’ll need to intervene the nanosecond you see signs of the desire to play from the non-treadmilling dog: playing dogs and moving machinery don't mix.
A dog’s paw pads are tougher than the sole of a human foot, but they’re not made of rock. They can be damaged from too much time on a rough surface like a treadmill belt, so you must gradually increase your dog’s time and speed on the treadmill.
If your dog has had paw pad problems in the past, ask your vet whether your dog should wear booties while treadmilling. (More details on booties in Chapter 14: Putting The Wheels In Motion.)
Kilometres Per Hour (Or kph)
Between 1 and 5 kph is a general guideline for the minimum and maximum walking speed, depending on the size, age, breed, and physical condition of the dog. As ever, it’s best to ask your vet for their advice on your dog’s ideal speed range.
Set Speed Or A Sliding Scale?
As your vet whether you should use either:
Having set speeds is pretty straightforward - you just put the dog on one of those set speeds each time.
For example, the set speeds for my dog Jake are: 1.0, 1.5 or 2 kph. Jasmin’s set speeds are: 3.5, 4.5 and 5.5 kph. I’ll use the lower speeds on days where we do a lot of other exercise, and the higher speeds when we do less or no other exercise.
I’ll use my dogs as an example to explain what I mean by a sliding scale:
I put my twelve year old, Jake, on anything from 1 to 2 kph. Over many days I slide up and down through the ranges: Jake goes from 1.0, to 1.1, to 1.2, etc, until he reaches 2.0 kph. Then I’ll start sliding down the scale from 2.0 to 1.9, 1.8, 1.7, etc, until he reaches 1.0 again. Then I slide all the way back up the scale, and then all the way back down. And so on.
My six year old Jasmin’s range is between 3.5 and 5.5 kph, and I do exactly the same with her as with Jake, but through her range of speeds.
However, I stay flexible about it too - if either dog seems particularly tired or particularly energetic I’ll deviate from the sliding scale to a speed that I think is more suitable.
Once both dogs became used to the treadmill, I started putting Jasmin on during Jake’s sessions (I’m sure you’ve cottoned on by now that she needs as much exercise as she can get!). They go at Jake’s speed, and NEVER the other way around.
If you have two dogs that can both comfortably fit on one treadmill, give it a try. Use two leads, one for each dog. As I mentioned before, I use a human treadmill for my dogs, so to have the two dogs treadmilling at the same time, I attach one lead to one handlebar and the other lead to the other handlebar.
Length Of Time
Jake’s sessions last ten minutes, Jasmin does twenty minutes at a time, and both dogs together do ten minute Jake-Paced sessions. Ten and twenty minutes are ideal maximums for my dogs - ask you vet how long you should build your dog’s sessions up to.
The Rest Of The Day
How much exercise in total a dog should do on the treadmill in a given day depends on what other physical activities the dog has already done that day and what you plan for the rest of the day.
In other words, use common sense to make this decision. If in doubt, ask your vet what they think a daily maximum should be for your dog.
Desensitisation Plan For Treadmilling
The following guideline will help you safely get your dog used to the treadmill. Repeat each stage as needed - depending on the dog, it will take anywhere from minutes to weeks to get to the last stage. Remain patient and relaxed, and reward calm behaviour with treats and praise.
Stage One: Introducing Your Dog To The Treadmill
Put the treadmill in plain sight for your dog to see. Supervise the dog as he or she investigates the machine, gently praise the dog, and give a treat.
If your dog's mouth starts to open, or the paws get involved, or the dog makes a move to pee on the treadmill, give a sharp uh-uh to stop the behaviour. Note: use this verbal reprimand but (as usual) NO punishment either physical or verbal - you want your dog to to stop the unwanted behaviour, not develop a negative association with the treadmill.
Stage Two: Sit (You, That Is, Not Your Dog)
Wave some treats under your dog’s nose so that he or she knows you have them, and go sit on the floor next to the treadmill. Allow your dog to approach and give treats and quiet praise for relaxed behaviour.
Stage Three: Training Your Dog Next To The Treadmill
Pop your dog on lead and take him or her for a short walk. Once back home, walk up to the treadmill together.
Be assertive in your desire for the dog to come close to the treadmill but don’t force (or ever punish) if your dog is fearful and you don’t get as close as you want. However close you manage to get, do a few minutes of obedience training at that spot using treats.
Stage Four: Training Your Dog Next To The Treadmill While The Treadmill Is Turned On
Exactly as Stage Three, but this time have the treadmill running at the lowest speed (on its own - not with your dog on it) while you do treat training near it.
Stage Five: Training Your Dog On The Treadmill
Exactly as Stages Three and Four, but this time the dog is standing on the treadmill for the obedience training.
Stage Six: Walking On The Treadmill
You might end up on any of the below steps for a substantial period of time depending on the dog. For example, for some weeks Jake wouldn’t walk unless I was on the machine with him. Now he just grooves along nicely on his own, but it took quite some work. Jasmin, on the other hand, literally took minutes for the entire process. Allow your dog to go at his or her pace through the following steps.
During this learning process, give your dog a treat once he or she is fastened onto the treadmill. Then, as your dog walks:
Treats Every Time?
There's no harm in giving your dog a treat every time he or she treadmills.
Unless your dog loves the treadmill it will never be fun for him or her to be on it, so make the experience a little sweeter by giving a small treat each time your dog is on there.
SAY NO TO PUPPY MILLS! SAY NO TO ANIMALS IN PETSHOPS! SAY NO TO BREEDERS!
Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance
It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.
Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.
Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.
Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.
Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.
If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.
All information and photos are copyright © Despina Rosales.