By Dr. Tracy Dewhirst
Treadmills are the buzz in canine workouts; some dogs are now clocking more miles than their humans! Here are a few things to consider if you want your dog to have a safe experience and to enjoy treadmill training.
Introducing Your Dog to the Treadmill
First, and perhaps the most critical, is your dog’s initial introduction to the treadmill. If it has a bad experience with the “electric floor snake,” your dog is likely to never darken the monster’s doorstep again. All the treats in the world cannot override a dog’s survival instinct shouting, “You are not a cat. You have only one life. Run for it!”
Please do not use Internet videos as examples of how to train your dog to use a treadmill. Many “dog expert” videos demonstrate dangerous techniques with “trainers” who lack the ability to read the dog’s body language and interpret canine fear. Positive reinforcement does not mean force with a positive, sweet voice. Wrestling a dog onto a high-torque, moving piece of equipment is a recipe for disaster.
I recommend starting your dog’s treadmill training under the supervision of certified canine physical therapists, who offer a positive and safe environment with proper rewards. Building its confidence in the machine is critical to your dog happily jumping on for a run.
Never ever use a collar and leash to train or control a dog on a treadmill. I just cringe when I see this. Imagine tying on a 30-foot neck scarf before you hit the treadmill. The risks seem obvious. Neck and tracheal injuries can occur without warning and can be instantly life-threatening. Harnesses are safer and help the therapist/owner support the dog. Stand next to your dog throughout the workout, ready to engage at all times.
Use the Right Equipment
Use a dog-specific treadmill when possible. Dr. Marti Drum, canine rehabilitation specialist at The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, says that treadmills designed for people often lack the length needed for a medium- to large-size dog’s stride. Dog treadmills are longer and narrower, allowing owners to easily touch and control the dog. They are also designed to reduce foot entrapment at the edge of the belt.
Homemade carpet mills are a cheaper alternative to an electric treadmill, but they have drawbacks. The speed and resistance of the moving belt are not consistent or adjustable, making injury more likely. Flat carpet mills are safer than inclines, but neither should be used for dogs needing postsurgical or recovery therapy.
Dogs enjoy scenery. Treadmills that face a wall or make a dog feel boxed in will not be popular and will likely be met with resistance.
Dog Treadmills Aren’t the Only Answer
Treadmills do offer dogs a great workout to keep them healthy, but remember the machines should be supplemental to an overall exercise routine that includes romping outside. An important job of all dogs is to remind humans to enjoy life, explore, and take in the world around us. They can only do that if we pick up a leash and head out for a jaunt.