Introduction: Teaching Dogs to Walk/run on Treadmill
Having chronic illness my dogs mean the world to me, they are a source of comfort, love, and entertainment. A couple years ago our younger Shih Tzu Car-Li, now 9, started limping and sometimes not using her left front arm. Some x-rays and a specialized vet visit revealed that she had congenital dislocations of her elbow that led to severe arthritis. She was not a candidate for amputation because the vet felt she's a bit too short to get around easily. We started her on anti-inflammatory medicine and were told exercise would help.
My mom and I have walking difficulties, my dad is often away on business, and Ohio weather doesn't always make it easy for outside walks so I bought a treadmill to help them get daily exercise. Two months after Car-Li started walking she hasn't limped or not used her arm since!
Our, now 10 year old, Bay-Li also has some arthritis due to luxating patellas (loose kneecaps) and she loves to run, the treadmill helps her keep fit, and she burns off her extra energy on it too.
This 'ible shows how I taught them to walk on a treadmill. PLEASE consult your own veterinarian for advice on whether this is a good/viable option for your dog.
Step 1: Get Them Comfortable Around Treadmill
The first thing you need to do is spend some time, about a couple weeks, getting them comfortable around the treadmill. Get them used to being in the same room with it, the sounds it makes, how it moves, all BEFORE ever letting them get on it. One thing you should think about is where your treadmill is located. If possible, have it in an open area, as you see ours is against one wall, and that's been OK for our dogs. Most importantly try not to have anything IN FRONT of the treadmill, dogs need to think they're walking into an open area, not into a wall. (Heck, we even turn the tv on to give them the same type treadmill experience a human would have.)
Slowly introduce them to standing on it. It's important that you dictate the rules of use, for several months we always put them on and took them off, we didn't let them decide when they were finished. We taught them "go for a walk" means it's treadmill time. Bay-Li LOVES the treadmill, Car-Li is a little more stubborn, and takes a few more treats as incentive to stay on, but the progress she's made is enough motivation to keep at it.
Initially, we laid treats on it, then turned it on and off, while giving them treats, to learn the sounds (ours makes 3 beeps, then beeps for each increment in speed). Once they understood how the treadmill works and sounds, we started walking.
Step 2: Teaching Bay-Li
Please note: their jogging clothes are optional. (And honestly, I did it once for cute videos, I wouldn't normally have them wear clothes so they don't get too hot.)
We started with a leash so we had control over each dog, it probably gave them some comfort as well that we were in charge and not going to hurt them. Start slowly and for only one or two minutes at a time. Praise them often and give treats as needed for positive behavior. The more comfortable they got, we wrapped the leash on the arm of the treadmill, loose enough they weren't at all pulled by it. DO NOT EVER LEAVE THEM UNATTENDED WITH THE LEASH ON THE TREADMILL.
Once they are used to a slow speed, you can start increasing to the speed appropriate for your dog. We try to pace them at the speed they'd walk on a leash outside. If they walk separate, since Bay's legs are taller, we walk her at 1.3 mph. I started walking her a couple minutes for a few days, then five minutes a time for a few days, then 8 minutes for a few days, etc. etc. etc. They could pretty easily walk 40 minutes in one session, but I decided to break it up into two sessions to give them a break.
If they're comfortable walking, and your dog is vet approved, and healthy enough to do so, you can jog or run them a few minutes. Since our dogs are small, they don't need too much running, but Bay seems to love stretching her legs and being encouraged to go, go, go!
Always give treats and positive praise at the end of each session, you want this to be fun for your pooch!
Almost a year and a half later, Bay-Li's usual routine is two treadmill walks a day for a total of 40 minutes walking, 3 minutes running. Her morning walk is usually 25 minutes at 1.3, 2 minutes running at 3.0. Her afternoon walk usually 15 minutes at 1.3, 1 minute running at 3.0 mph. We walk her every single day.
Step 3: Teaching Car-Li
As I said, Car-Li was a little more stubborn, but with affirmations and treats she picked it up.
We followed the same steps above with Bay, and averaged the 40 minutes daily, with only 2 minutes of jogging at 2.0 mph. One of my biggest triumphs, for our little suspicious-of-everything-Car-Li was when she started walking her tail was always down, a few weeks in, and continuing now, she walks tail up like the happy-go-lucky girl she is!
Last November, Car-Li had a pretty serious health set back that put her on the injured reserve list a few months, she came down with pneumonia and bronchitis that left her with doggy asthma. It was a very rough time for her and she was barely able to play with Bay-Li without getting out of breath, let alone eat much or even sleep comfortably, so the treadmill was out of the question until the fluid in her lungs went away.
Fortunately, some serious antibiotics, then steroids and throat medications, got her back in shape. She recently switched to an inhaler that she'll remain on the rest of her life. Her vet has approved her to start on the treadmill again, but to take it slow, so we walk her at a slower speed, and don't bother jogging her.
Step 4: Walking Together
After making sure they were comfortable walking individually, we tried having them on together. They pretty quickly learned to share the space. Occasionally, Bay-Li, who walks closer to the wall, tries to bump Car if she wants to see something or get a treat, but they're overall quite well behaved together.
You might need to put a leash on each of your dogs if you try this, for some reason, I think because Car-Li looks to her big sis as the Alpha dog between them, just putting a leash on Bay-Li kept Car-li walking too.
Because of Car-Li's recent illness, she now only walks the afternoon walk, and we slow it down to 1.0 mph so it's not a breathing struggle for her. She walks 15-20 minutes daily, her health will dictate if that changes in the future.
They get treats and positive affirmations after each session, we only want this to be a good experience for them, never feeling like a punishment. They get playtime outside, chase each other around inside, and nice weather real walks, but our treadmill has been a tremendous help in keeping our dogs active and as healthy as they can be.
If your vet feels this is a good option for your dog, I hope this 'ible shows you that treadmill training a dog is possible and can be a very good thing if you have problems otherwise exercising your dog.