How to Train Your Dog to Use a Treadmill

Medium
2-3 Weeks
General

Introduction

Your dog was designed to run. His wild cousins travel in packs for miles each day in search of prey, to defend their territory, or looking for resources such as water. Unfortunately, your apartment or house does not provide your dog with this opportunity, and that is where problems can start. Dogs need physical activity, and if they don't get it they can develop all kinds of physical, emotional, and mental issues. Ask any veterinarian and they will tell you that obesity in pets is a major problem and responsible for a large number of health problems in our, pets including premature death. When we keep our pets in a restricted environment, such as indoors, the opportunities for natural activity are greatly diminished. Ideally, dogs should be walked long distances each day, but time and environmental restrictions sometimes limit our ability to provide this much-needed activity to our canine companions. One solution is to teach your dog to use a treadmill to get the exercise he needs indoors, when you don't have the ability or time to take him on a long walk each day.

Defining Tasks

You can teach your dog to use a treadmill to get the daily exercise and activity he needs, to burn off extra energy, improve his physical condition, and stimulate him mentally when you are unable to provide outdoor exercise. As pet owners, sometimes we are not able to take our dogs on the long walks they require daily, due to illness, weather, or time constraints. A motorized treadmill can provide a solution, however, you will need to train your dog to safely use the treadmill. Because treadmills make noise and the movement can be confusing to the dog at first, you will need to train your dog not to be startled or afraid of the treadmill and how to use it safely and calmly, not jumping off, balking, or bolting when the treadmills starts up. Most dogs do a steady trot while on the treadmill, a gait that is natural to them in the wild. You will need to watch your dog closely at all times while on the treadmill to make sure he does not get tangled up or injured: never leave a dog unsupervised on a treadmill. Also, you will need to closely monitor his activity so as not to over-exercise your dog, or cause him unnecessary strain. Avoid working puppies or very young dogs on a treadmill, as they do not always have the coordination necessary to work effectively on a treadmill and can become injured if they stumble. Large dogs, especially, should wait until they are mature to work on a treadmill as they can strain their joints if overworked and are more prone to injury on a treadmill. Remember, your dog doesn't have control of the speed and duration of activity when he is on the treadmill-- watch for signs of fatigue and keep exercise appropriate.

Getting Started

You will need an appropriately sized treadmill for your dog.  You can use a regular treadmill for most dogs, although large dogs may need a treadmill especially designed for large dogs. Specialized dog treadmills are available commercially and often have side panels to help direct your dog to stay on the treadmill and a feed dish at the front to reward your dog. Make sure you have a treadmill in good working order, with no loose or broken parts, and that is an appropriate size for your dog to work, given his natural stride. Determine what duration and speed is appropriate for your dog prior to getting started, and work up to that slowly. You should have treats available to help reward your dog for learning to use the treadmill, and you may use a leash but never tie your dog to the treadmill, as this can pose a serious safety issue. Never force your dog onto the treadmill, as this can create fear. It is also better to make sure the treadmill is facing away from the wall, so your dog does not feel that he is about to run into the wall, and to gives you better access to the treadmill from all sides to encourage and reward your dog.

The Practice Slow Method

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Step
1
Introduce obedience with treadmill
Encourage your dog to get up on the treadmill and then practice commands he already knows, like 'sit 'and 'stay'. Reward him for performing commands so he get comfortable working with commands on the treadmill.
Step
2
Leash your dog
Put your dog on a leash and face him forward. Hold the leash, do not tie it off, start the treadmill on the lowest setting, and say "ready".
Step
3
Encourage forward
Encourage your dog to walk forward while standing in front of the treadmill.
Step
4
Increase speed slowly
Gradually increase the speed as your dog gets used to moving on the treadmill. If your dog shows signs of anxiety, slow back down.
Step
5
Teach 'stop' and 'exit'
When you stop the treadmill, don't let your dog jump off. Have him wait on the treadmill until you command him with 'off'. This teaches him to only get off the treadmill when you command him, avoiding accidents, so your dog does not decide to jump off the treadmill while it is running.
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The Acclimatize Method

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Step
1
Introduce treadmill
Bring your dog to the treadmill with it turned off. Get on the treadmill and call your dog to come up with you, hold a treat out. Give him the treat when he jumps up.
Step
2
Lure solo on treadmill
Now ask him to get on the treadmill without you. Hold the treat over the treadmill, provide the treat when he gets on the treadmill.
Step
3
Teach 'stay' on treadmill
Ask your dog to stay, standing on the treadmill. Provide him with a treat at regular intervals until he is comfortable standing on the treadmill.
Step
4
Introduce running treadmill
Have your dog stand next to the treadmill with it turned on. Provide a treat when he stands calmly next to the treadmill with it running.
Step
5
Run treadmill
Ask your dog to get on the treadmill and give a treat. Put a leash on your dog and start at the lowest setting. Stand next to him holding the leash as though you were going for a walk with him.
Step
6
Encourage walk
Encourage your dog forward, hold a treat in front of him, reward him for walking slowly on the treadmill. Repeat until he is comfortable.
Step
7
Increase speed
Gradually increase speed a little at a time over several days or weeks. Provide treats only when stopped, never at faster speeds, to avoid choking. Praise your dog as a reward when moving faster.
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The Capture with Clicker Method

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Step
1
Capture 'on treadmill'
Put a treat on the turned off treadmill. When your dog jumps on the treadmill, click.
Step
2
Add command
Add a command for 'get on' the treadmill, combine with treat and click.
Step
3
Capture 'jump off'
Ask your dog to step off the treadmill, provide a command like "get off", click to capture the behavior
Step
4
Capture 'stay on' treadmill
Command the dog to get on the treadmill. Click and treat while standing on the turned off treadmill, for an extended period of time.
Step
5
Capture treamill on
Once your dog is comfortable standing on the treadmill, turn it on very slowly. Encourage your dog to walk forward, click and treat.
Step
6
Increase speed
Increase the speed, click and praise. Do not treat at higher speeds, wait to provide a treat until after exercise session.
Step
7
Remove click
Gradually remove the click as your dog becomes comfortable with what is expected of him. Continue to supervise and praise your dog for using the treadmill.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
rene
Xoloitzcuintle
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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rene
Xoloitzcuintle
7 Months

We are trying to train Rene to use the treadmill. She will play on and around it, interact with it, eat treats with it, get on with us, etc. but not if the motor is running. Then it's "exit, stage left" and there isn't a way to wall off the sides and prevent her jumping. Plus when you restrict her choices she goes into stress very quickly. If she feels like she isn't able to have any control, she balks completely. I've tried tying bacon above the moving track, she gave up on it eventually. I tried walking with food in my hand and she would rather give up the treat than put her naked little foot on that moving sandpaper track. I will start trying to teach her to stay put till commanded to get off, on the non-moving treadmill, as that seems like something, but can you give me any other tips on how to bridge that "scared of scratching my naked skin" fear of the moving treadmill? I cannot replace it with carpet, sadly. It wouldn't fit the machine.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
707 Dog owners recommended

Hello, If the feel of the treadmill seems to be the issue, I suggest getting her used to wearing doggie hiking boots. Check out Ruffwear.com and their selection of boots - there are less expensive brands but that quality and design is an example of what you are looking for something along the lines of. Get her used to wearing the boots using treats to reward her for letting you touch her feet, then put on the boots, then to reward her periodically while she is walking around in them - expect her to walk funny and bite at them some at first. That's normal. Let her wear them long enough to adjust to the feel of them - distracting her with treats and toys when she starts to bother the boots. When she is completely used to the boots, then work on walking on the treadmill with the boots on. Second, I would work on getting her used to walking onto a non-moving treadmill with some barriers on the sides. Create some barriers on either side of the treadmill, even if that looks like propping up a couple of pieces of cardboard on both sides. At first, just get her used to walking onto a treadmill with the sides enclosed. You can even leave the treadmill where she can access it when you are not right there - and encourage her to get onto it on her own by leaving treats sprinkled on it for her to find. Replace the treats often - until she is regularly walking onto the treadmill on her own to look for treats. Next, work on teaching her to simply stand-stay on the treadmill without rushing off and rewarding her for staying on it. So work on her walking onto it with the sides enclosed, then standing on it without rushing off. Once she can stay on the treadmill, check out the video linked below on adding movement. Pay attention to how he has it set up with the sides, chair, and harness and bungee. Notice he starts it off on the absolute slowest setting and rewards pup with treats for walking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nd-9mfdSmdk Expect a little freaking out for the first minute she is walking. Keep things as calm as possible and see if you can work her through it by letting her continue walking on it and having a chance to adjust to it, instead of instantly getting off - how to respond her will depend a lot on her response. If she is isn't adjusting quickly, give her just a couple of minutes to work through the treadmill and calm down a bit, then end that session if it was hard for her. Practice this at that low level for as many days in a row as it takes for her to gain confidence on the treadmill. Pay attention to whether she will eat food while on it - if she will, that's a good sign that she isn't too stressed. Once pup is feeling confident on the lowest setting, very slowly increase the speed setting, waiting until she relaxes at the current setting before increasing it again. Eventually you are looking to work up to the setting that she seems to be able to walk at a normal looking gait - like what she would do while on a walk. That gait will ultimately be the most comfortable speed to walk at - instead of too fast or awkwardly slow - like you will need to do at first. If she seems to be regressing, I would pause the training and hire a trainer who is experienced teaching this to help you. Be sure to ask the trainer about their experience in this area - not all trainers have done this before. Finding a trainer who specializes in behavior issues and offers private training is more likely to have done this before. Here is another example of a more stressed dog being worked through the treadmill - there are multiple ways to teach this depending on the dog you are working with. The method I have suggest above first, is a gentler, slower method that I suggest trying first with your pup. The below method is still pretty gentle but puts the dog under a little more temporary stress (not that much though), but helps the dog adjust quicker for a dog who can't be coaxed on with treats - the most important part of this is to keep doing this really often with the dog. Because the dog might not leave the treadmill loving it after the first session, you need to persevere and practice this daily to get the dog over the initial hump of being worried about the treadmill - once the dog gets used to the treadmill, then the actual act of walking while on the treadmill becomes rewarding due to chemicals released in the brain while exercising - this takes some perseverance with the training to get to that point though and requires a bit more firmness. Notice the side rails on this treadmill too - the dog could still jump over them, but they create a visual barrier to discourage hopping on and off as frequently. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqtqEbOilfs Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Harper
Pit bull
2 Years
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Question
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Harper
Pit bull
2 Years

My dog Harper is an amazingly obedient dog-but i want to exercise her more due to her being overweight. i don’t want to over exercise her though, because she only has three legs. i just need someone else’s opinion while i slowly get her comfortable around the treadmill and standing on it before i start having her walk on it. but yeah, someone else’s input would be amazing with this! she’s really hyper too btw lol

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
707 Dog owners recommended

Hello Olivia, I would treat the treadmill like you would a walk outside, as far as her endurance goes. Start with just a few minutes on the treadmill to get to comfortable with walking on it first, keeping the elevation low. Just like any exercise, increase the time gradually as she improves and gains muscle slowly. Pay attention to pup's body language, like panting and whether she seems sore at the end of the day, to gauge her tiredness and stop before she seems too over-exerted. When in doubt, consult your vet since they will know her limits and history. I am not a vet. Many three legged dogs do keep up well physically as long as they can maintain balance okay with what they are doing and are not over-working the leg they put more weight on- keep an eye on that and consult your vet about that. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
ACE
American bully
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
ACE
American bully
5 Months

Hello,

So Ace has no issue getting on and walking in the treadmill...however jumps off constantly after about a minute or so. I'm trying to encourage his duration of time on the equipment for cold winter days where getting out for longer stretches will be more difficult. Please help me help him increase his time.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
707 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brittany, I recommend arranging the treadmill with one side against a wall, and the other side blocked off with something harmless, like a kid's tunnel shoot - mimicking the sides of a dog treadmill like the one below. https://www.amazon.com/dogPACER-3-1-Dog-Pacer-Treadmill/dp/B007Z59K6I Second, start practicing with pup on a leash if you aren't already, so that you can help guide them. Use treats to reward staying on - choosing something that's very easy to eat, like small freeze dried liver or even a lick of peanut butter or liver paste. Increase time gradually, add just one more minute at a time over the course of the month - rewarding pup every thirty seconds at first - then every minute, then every five minutes, ect... To slowly stretch it out, until the walk itself becomes the reward when you have worked up to 30 minutes in a couple months. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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