Dog Treadmill Training:
How to Introduce Your Dog to a Treadmill
If you have interest in teaching your dog the treadmill or any type of new activity or obstacle, you must have a clear plan of progression and teach your dog step by step. The first impression of any new activity, device, or behavior is critical to the success you will have.
Teamwork and Achieving a Common Goal
When we introduce any new behavior, we like to treat it like a game that you and your dog play together.
The treadmill is just like another game and with any game, there is an objective in mind, social interaction, and teamwork. There are also rules on what to do to continue to progress as well as rules of what not to do. We need to be clear in teaching these rules so we can minimize any stress that comes with any new objective and help guide the dog to the point of them being proactive to want to self reward and play the game. The first step for this is clear direction and guidance, which is always the key to any successful integration to any new objective .
Here is a list of requirements we make sure all our clients understand prior to the introduction of a treadmill :
1. You must have a trusting, engaging relationship with your dog and an understanding of basic commands with the use of clear signals/ markers ( yes, good , clicker, ok , free ect…) for proper guidance.
2. Please make sure you understand your dog’s intensity and level of desire for the novelty you pick as a reward. For example if your dog likes food but goes crazy for the ball, you will use the different rewards at different times in this process to help shape the wanted behavior. Other examples of rewards are praise, tug, play time, etc.
3. Your dog must be leashed trained and be comfortable wearing a harness. We will first confirm they are comfortable with obediently walking on a leash. They should also be comfortable wearing a harness. The reason is because you’ll still want to harness them when using the treadmill to help them if they stumble or lose their footing. We also recommend your dog wears a wider flat collar, at least 1 “wide, for more surface and cover to provide neck support when using the leash as a guidance tool. We do NOT recommend attaching the dog’s collar directly to the machine as the main support.
4. Always warm up and cool down before and after any workout (3-5 minutes depending on climate, elevation, intensity of the workout as well as the condition of the dog). You should also use a fan in front of the dog mill pointing at the dog to help keep them cool.
5. Always attach the safety shut off switch to the dog.
What To Do
1. Constantly monitor your dog so that you know when you should or should not increase the intensity of the workout.
2. Pay close attention to your dog’s breathing, expression, panting, and general demeanor so that you are on alert for signs of distress.
3. Be alert for signs of overheating, soreness or pain.
4. If your dog is easily handling the workload and shows no signs of distress or fatigue, be sure that you only increase the workload at incremental levels, changing one variable at a time. Variables can consist of things such as time, distance, incline and intensity. By changing one variable at a time, you allow your dog’s body to safely adjust to the activity before making it more challenging.
5. As a general rule of thumb, McPeck recommends only increasing variables such as weight, distance and time at a rate of no more than 10% per week when making workouts more challenging.
6. When adjusting workouts, also be sure to avoid using extreme inclines for long periods of time. This can lead to overuse injury, especially for dogs who have a weak core or back.
What Not To Do
1. Do not put the dog on a moving treadmill.
2. Do not let the dog jump off or roll off a moving treadmill.
3. Do not drag the dog onto the treadmill.
4. Do not turn it on the first time they step on the mill.
5. Do not leave the dog any longer than they are comfortable with (mentally and physically).
6. Do not increase the exercise program aggressively (rigorous exercise should always be done in a gradual format to prevent injury or mistrust).
7. If you don’t have a clear trusting relationship and can’t read and understand your dog, we do not recommend using the treadmill yet.
8. Don’t give your dog any food during or immediately following any rigorous workout program, you should always allow at least 1 hour of a cool down and relax before any small meal is given. When first introducing your dog to the treadmill, treats are okay but should be monitored.
9. Don’t give large amounts of water during or immediately following any workout either. Small amounts of water is ok, once the workout is complete.
10. Never leave a dog on a treadmill unattended.
Important Terminology to Understand
Marker = a unique signal to communicate to a dog the behavior is correct
Reward = adding a value after the marker ( ball, praise , food , play , chase , tug )
Release/ Free = a verbal cue that is given to the dog to let them know they completed the task , they are free to leave and interact/ play with you ( biggest value , make this the big pay out )
Please note: not all dogs will require the same amount of time or process to teach them and get them comfortable with the treadmill. This outline is a general guideline and may be altered based on the need of the individual dog. Please take the time necessary to prepare your dog, and make sure they are having fun!
Steps to Teaching Your Dog to Use the Treadmill
Teach the Enter and Exit of the Treadmill First
First, put the dog’s harness, collar and leash on, then take your dog near the treadmill and let them explore it (while it’s off!). If they are scared, motivate them and reward them for any accomplishment (even one baby step towards the treadmill is a success). Capitalize and build on the formula from this point, (one step - reward, two steps - reward three steps - reward, then free the dog and do a big play session). You can also use treats, praise, and play with them near it, to help get them more comfortable and understand the game. Once they seem comfortable, teach them to enter the back or the treadmill, then mark the behavior with a signal (yes) and then reward them. You will then release them through the front exit door and mark and reward this behavior. Repeat this a few times until you see the dog proactively and excitedly participate in this game.
Teach the Stand and Stay on the Treadmill
The next step is to teach them to enter the back , stand and stay on the middle of the treadmill for a longer duration each time ( mark and reward the increase of time dog is staying , and repeat a few times then release the dog via the exit and big reward. An example of what this looks like, stand and stay 3 seconds, mark it, then reward. Try then for a stay of 6 seconds, mark, then reward. Once they achieve this, try for a stay of 9 seconds, mark then reward. You can then release via exit door and big play session and/or reward.
Teach Attaching the Harnessed Dog to the Treadmill
The next step is repeat the previous step by marking and rewarding the stand stay while at the same time attaching the dogs harness to a support line clipped to the top support hook bar of the treadmill. Mark and reward each step of this process. After a few times marking and rewarding the duration of the stand and stay while the harness is attached, you can then unhook the harness from the top support hook, mark and reward then free the dog via the front exit gate. After that, you will want to do a play and reward session.
Building the Dogs Confidence and Motivation while the Handler Changes their Guidance Position from Side to Front of the Machine
Repeat the previous steps but start walking from the side to the front of the treadmill while holding a loose leash attached to the dog’s collar. Please continue to mark and reward while you or the handler is in front and next to the dog. After a few times building longer durations in each position, you can then unhook the harness from the top support hook, mark and reward. Free the dog via the front exit gate and play and reward . Continue to repeat the process and make sure you and your dog are having fun!
Teach the Dog the Value of Turning the Unit On/Off
Repeat all of the the previous steps and once the dog is in a harnessed and in a stand position with the handler in front of the treadmill, looking at the dog and holding a loose leash attached to the dogs collar, you can then turn the power on. When you hear the unit turn on with a beep sound, mark that and reward the dog, the unit will start to move at a very slow speed of ½ MPH, (do not increase this slow speed). Motivate and guide the dog to move forward, mark and reward any forward step. Repeat these steps a few times increasing the duration of the walk by seconds and making this part of the game (again, it is very important that you do NOT increase the speed). The next step would be to make sure the machine is turned off then mark and reward this, then release the dog from the machine via the front exit gate and play and reward.
Teaching Your Dog the Value of Increased Speed, Incline, and Duration
It is extremely important to follow the previous methods of progression to introduce any new changes. Remember the first impression is everything, don’t just expect your dog to understand the training. You need to be clear and guide them. When adding an incline, increasing the speed or duration of the workout, do not ever rush the process. Make sure you are marking and rewarding the progression and then stopping the machine on a good note to boost you and your dog’s confidence. Every training session should end with you releasing your dog and playing a fun game or allowing interaction with the handler. This method will keep the game interesting and fun!
Start Exercising and Increasing Goals
You will want to start slowly with short 3-5 minute workout sessions, no matter how fit your dog is, just to ensure they feel comfortable and to test how much energy they exert. It is important to always monitor your dog’s level of fatigue to prevent trips or falls. Treadmills are different from a regular walk or run because your dog is isolated on the tread and there are no interruptions (no distractions to pause and sniff at!). He or she also doesn’t have their own control on the speed and duration of their run so while this can lead to a more efficient workout, it also might mean your dog is tired out sooner. Always read your dog and check in with them.
Up to this point we taught the dog to trust our guidance and understand our signals and the end result will be a fun, fulfilling game that you played together. Always have fun, take rests, and monitor your dog for safety. If your dog is showing fatigue, becoming limp or showing excessive heavy breathing, stop immediately and do not continue. Please have your dog vet checked and or cleared by a K9 physiotherapist or rehab specialist before any exercise program or if you are resuming treadmill training after any injury.
The Dog Runner treadmill provides numerous benefits for your dog because it allows them to do the thing they were born to do: run! However, it can be tough for owners to give dogs the space and time they need to exert their energy. Whether that’s due to an apartment living situation, the weather is bad, or other factors in life that get in the way, it’s important to find ways to still stimulate your dog physically or mentally or else you’ll run into issues with an aggressive or destructive dog. With the dog treadmill, you can exercise your dog on a consistent, ongoing basis, in addition to the normal activities you do with them. Before starting any dog treadmill training, make sure to always consult your vet or if your dog is recovering, loop in their rehabilitation specialist. When setting up the treadmill, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions or contact the experts at Maximum Canine for advice.