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Oh for the spring sunshine and green fields!
Instead, the sidewalks and parks are a sea of mud. Your fur-baby has little legs and even the shortest walk down the road ends up with wet, muddy fur and a bath for the little angel. Not great, especially when on a tight schedule to get to work.
But you also have another problem. Your dog may be little but he's not lacking in energy. If he doesn't get out to stretch his legs then he's liable to divert that unspent energy into mischief. So far this winter he's stripped wallpaper off the walls, chewed the edge of the window sills, and dug a hole in the carpet. You're not sure who's going to snap first: You or the dog.
Then a wonderfully simple solution presents itself. What if you were to train the dog to use the treadmill? It's a real light bulb moment and you can't think why it hasn't occurred to you before. The practicalities, however, are a little different. For a start, the dog bolts at the sound of the motor... Oh dear. Is the idea a runner after all?
Teaching a small dog to use a treadmill needs to be done in a number of steps. As an object, even a static treadmill can seem an intimidating when you're less than knee-high. Add into that the sound of the motor (after all, the vacuum is a super-scary thing) and then that the belt moves under the paw, and it might seem the treadmill was invented to be a dog-free zone.
However, all of these issues can be overcome, when you take things slowly and introduce each part of the puzzle individually, making sure the dog is confident and at ease before moving on to the next stage.
The most obvious piece of equipment needed is a treadmill. Actually, owning a small dog makes things a whole lot easier because he will fit on a machine designed for people. (A large or giant dog will need a special canine treadmill to accommodate their longer body and stride length.)
Ideally, site the treadmill somewhere with a view, rather than facing a blank wall. Most dogs will instinctively avoid running head first into a wall, so being able to see where they are going helps with training.
In addition, you will need:
- A harness and leash (A harness is better than a collar in case the dog trips up.)
- A treat pouch or bag so that rewards are readily accessible.
The Meet the Treadmill Method
Understand the idea
Remember the first time you stepped on a treadmill and that bizarre sensation as the world slips past in fast forward as you fall off the back of the belt? Now imagine what that would have felt like if you had no clue what was going on. It's important to appreciate that not only is a treadmill a strange apparatus for the dog to step onto, but it poses challenges in that it moves and makes a noise. With this in mind, spend time having your small dog feel comfortable around the treadmill before expecting him to run on it.
Praise the dog for investigating
Make sure the treadmill is switched off. Reward the dog for being naturally inquisitive and investigating the treadmill. Perhaps throw a treat onto the belt, thus encouraging the dog to be bolder still. Keep repeating this in order to build the dog's confidence so that he's not anxious around the machine.
Encourage the dog to step on the treadmill
Place some small tasty treats on the stationary belt of the treadmill. Once the dog is comfortable eating treats off the belt, position the rewards so the dog has to step up to get to them. Praise and fuss the dog for being so bold. Again, repeat on lots of occasions so this becomes almost an automatic response from the dog.
Switch the treadmill on
Now it's time to switch the treadmill on and have it on the slowest setting. The idea is not to get the dog to step on at this stage, but to get the dog used to the sound. As for the first steps, praise the dog when he is confident enough to approach the treadmill. If your dog is especially nervous, you may find it helpful to put the dog on a collar and leash, and have the dog walk to heel. Walk in wide circles around the treadmill, keeping the dog's attention on you and hence distracting him from the sound. As the dog relaxes, gradually make the circles smaller, bringing him closer in. Take things slowly and don't force progress, since you want the dog to be relaxed and comfortable in order for the next stages to work.
Practice getting on and off
With the machine off, practice encouraging the dog to get on and off the belt. Use cue words such as "up" and "floor", so that the dog learns what you want him to do. Have him get on and off the belt several times with it stationary. Repeat the exercise over the next few days to weeks, depending how quick the dog is to learn.
The Follow Your Lead Method
Understand the idea
It's essential you have followed the 'Meet the Treadmill' method and the dog is relaxed around the treadmill. The next stage is to teach him to pace alongside you on the moving belt, so that eventually he is comfortable walking on it solo. Once you have achieved this you can gradually build the pace, to meet your dog's exercise requirements
Step up together
With the dog on a harness and leash, set the treadmill on its slowest speed and a flat bed with no incline. Encourage the dog to step up onto the moving belt. Your dog will learn more quickly if you step up beside him. Get the dog's attention and have him step forward with you as you take steps. This will help him get used to the motion of the belt and how he has to walk to keep up with it.
Practice and praise
Get onto the treadmill with your dog as many times as it takes for him to hop on without thinking about it. Reinforce the lesson with plentiful praise, enticing him along with treats if necessary.
Now try having the dog on the treadmill alone. If you stand beside him, hold the leash vertical with the slack taken up. That way if he stumbles you can physically support him and reduce the risk of him falling off the belt, which could be traumatic for the dog.
Stand in front of the treadmill
Try standing in front of the treadmill and encouraging the dog to walk towards you. If the dog has learned the earlier lessons well, then you may be able to speed the belt up slightly so that he actively walks (or trots) towards you, but with the effect of staying in the same spot. Congratulations, your small dog is now trained to use a treadmill!
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Don't: Leave a dog unattended on a treadmill
Tempting as it may be to switch on the treadmill and let the dog exercise himself while you go about household chores - this is a bad idea. Should he stumble you would not know what had gone on and why he was now frightened of the treadmill. But worse than that, if he fell badly he could injure himself.
Do: Keep the dog harnessed
While on the treadmill it is useful to keep the dog harnessed, as you can then use the leash in a vertical position to keep him at a central place on the treadmill.
Don't: Overwhelm the dog
Asking a small dog to get onto a piece of equipment that moves and makes a noise is asking a lot. Be sure to train in small steps to build acceptance of the equipment. If at any stage he becomes fretful or anxious, then take things back to the previous step until he relaxes once again.
Do: Build up his time on the treadmill
Remember, exercising on a treadmill is a skill that takes time to learn and muscles the dog might not have used in a while. Therefore, start with short 30 second sessions on the moving belt, and very gradually build both his confidence and endurance by increasing to one minute, then 90 seconds and only slowly increasing the length of the exercise session. With this in mind, you may need to plan to walk the dog as usual in order to expand unspent energy.
Don': Punish or coerce the dog
Never punish the dog for trying to leave the treadmill or coerce him on when fearful. This will only heighten his anxiety and could lead to feelings of fear, which ultimately end in him biting out of self-protection.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/15/2018, edited: 01/08/2021