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Dogs and Treadmills

Dogs and Treadmills

-Heather Parsons VMG. MBA

Dog treadmills are the newest “must have” for sport/working dog handlers

But why? Can’t you just walk your dog?

Yes. And No. Walks are awesome – but not always possible or sufficient.

I take my dogs’ fitness very seriously. We compete in a lot of different sports and events and I need them to be at their peak fitness to be able to do their best. The core of our fitness program is daily walks. We hike off-leash every day, which allows the dogs to cover more ground than I do and the forest provides natural fitness equipment: logs to jump over, hills to climb, uneven ground to navigate. When we are traveling and do not have access to a safe area for off-leash hiking, we leash walk. Walks and hikes provide both the basis for fitness, but also the critical daily enrichment of different smells and sights.

In Canada, our weather can dramatically impact our ability to be outside, enjoying nature and exercising our dogs. On very cold AND very hot days we may need to shorten our walks to keep us and our furry friends safe. Living in Ontario, we have at least one nasty ice storm every winter. The world looks dazzlingly beautiful, encased in ice, but is also terribly treacherous, often meaning it is unsafe to walk for a few days until new snow falls or the ice melts. On days when mother nature interferes with our outdoor plans, a treadmill can be a great back-up. Treadmills can also help out if an owner is injured and unable to join their dog on walks.

What is different about dog treadmills?

Why not just use the treadmill you have sitting around collecting dust?

By nature of their 4-legged stance, dogs need a much longer treadmill base for them to move properly and safely. Small dogs may do just fine on a “human” treadmill, but medium dogs and larger will need a specially designed dog treadmill with a longer base to allow them to stride naturally. Too much time spent keeping their steps short to fit onto a human treadmill can lead to movement irregularities and injuries.

How to start

Some dogs will take to a treadmill in no time, seemingly unphased by the surprise of a moving sidewalk. Most dogs, however, will need some training and time. A treadmill can seem scary at first, although remarkably quiet, they do make noise when they’re on, and the shock of the ground moving beneath your dog’s feet can be unsettling! Start slow and don’t expect much in the first sessions. Reward your dog for stepping onto the treadmill. Reward LOTS for them moving as you (slowly!) start the belt. After a couple of seconds stop the belt, reward your dog again, and end the session. Build up slowly, increasing the time, or gradually increasing the speed until your dog is moving comfortably and calmly. Many dogs grow to love the treadmill. One of my dogs, Random, will jump on the treadmill and look at me, as if asking me to start it up!

I use the treadmill not only as an alternative when the weather is not amenable to walking outdoors, but also to augment our walks. The sustained exercise of a treadmill is unique from the start/stop/run/rest of an off leash hike and plays a different role in their fitness plan.

If you are curious about adding a treadmill to your dog’s life, talk to your veterinary team. They can give you advice on appropriate exercise. A rehab-focused vet will have a lot of experience with treadmills and can help you navigate your options.

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