Exercise is important for dogs, just like it is in people. Increasing your canine’s activity level is not only a good way to maintain a healthy weight; but it can help to prevent joint and bone disease, improve heart health, and protect against diabetes. Treadmills also have the advantage that they can be used regardless of the weather, light, or time of day. This is also a great option for pet owners who are not physically able to walk their companions. Aquatic, or water filled tanks with a treadmill at the bottom are now more commonly used for physical therapy in patients that are recovering from bone or joint surgeries, as well as others who are covering from trauma.Some cats may be interested in using a treadmill for exercise as well.
Treadmills can also be used to assist in the treatment of behavioral problems. This activity is considered a calming exercise because it causes your buddy to focus on the machine, and tune out environmental distractions. Because of the high level of mental engagement, your pet is more likely to be relaxed, calm, and/or tired after using a treadmill. This is very different than playing in the park, which can actually make your companion more excited because there is a lot of external stimulation.
Canine treadmills are designed with your pet’s safety in mind; and are available in both motorized and non-motorized forms. The belt is usually flush with the edge of the machine, this means there is not a gap that feet or nails can get caught in. Side fences or rails are available as an accessory; these help to keep your companion on the exercise apparatus. In the motorized form, dog treadmills have the motor more encased or protected than in human machines; this prevents the motor from becoming clogged with dog hair. This is a common problem with human treadmills; and often causes the equipment to shut down. Non-motorized treadmills can provide a better workout because they are totally powered by your companion; and there is less likelihood for injury because it stops when he or she does. Canine versions also come in different sizes to accommodate the dimensions of your companion. The control panel is also located in an easy to reach location so that the machine can be turned off quickly. The canine versions also tend to make less noise.
Dogs can use human treadmills. These machines can also be modified with a bar to attach a harness. A harness is helpful because it provides support, distributes pressure over a large area, there is no risk of choking, and it doesn’t put tension on the neck. Side fences can also be made using dog crates, PCV pipes, or other fence materials. Special emergency buttons or extension stop cords can be purchased to turn off a human treadmill more easily.
It can take some time to train your buddy to use this exercise equipment. Be patient. Offer positive reinforcements for standing on the treadmill. You can start by just manually moving the treadmill with your foot. Having a leash on your pet can help to make this seem like “a walk in the park”. Make sure you are holding the leash. I do not recommend, tying the leash to the treadmill because of concern for trauma to your buddy’s neck. Most certified behavioral/training specialists recommend using a harness, especially when using a human treadmill for this reason. When you do start the machine, use a low speed at first, and remain calm. For dogs that are high energy, they may benefit from starting at the 2nd speed level. It is important to act like everything is normal so that your pet stays relaxed. If your pet panics, and starts to drag his or her feet, simply support him or her under the waist. A harness is also helpful with giving this extra support. Start with just a few minutes at a time, and slowly increase the time. An active dog can use the treadmill comfortably for 30-60 minutes several days a week. Many dogs enjoy this so much that they will even jump on the treadmill on their own, and bark for you to start the machine.
This column was inspired by a good friend of mine, Dianne Venzon, who is a very active volunteer for The Northern California Weimaraner Rescue organization. She fostered, and then adopted a loving male named Echo. He hadn’t had a lot of socialization skills, and initially didn’t do well in noisy or crowded situations. NCWR often enlists the help of trainer, Colleen Combs owner of King’s Kastle. Dianne independently contracted her to work with Echo for several weeks; Combs then developed a customized routine of exercise that Dianne could do with Echo at home. Treadmill workouts, in combination with other therapies, have enabled him to participate at several NCWR events and live a happier, less anxious, and more social life.
If you are thinking that a treadmill workout could benefit your canine, please keep these important points in mind:
- Make sure your veterinarian clears your dog for this type of exercise before considering starting such a program. Your companion needs to be free of bone/joint/muscle problems, and have a good working heart/cardiovascular system.
- It is best to initiate this type of exercise under the supervision of a certified trainer or the guidance of your veterinarian.
- Make sure you supervise your pet at all times while he or she is on the treadmill.
- Do not use a treadmill that has a raised band or seam where the belt connects to itself. Your pet can catch his foot in this and then become injured.
- A body harness is the safest way to support your buddy on a treadmill.
- >Wait at least an hour after your pet has eaten before you let you him/her use the treadmill.
- Keep your pet’s nails short to avoid tears in the belt.
- If you have a large dog-over 50 lbs., you will want a treadmill with a longer belt; at least 60-62 inches.
- Treadmills shouldn’t be used in dogs under a year of age, or patients over the age of 8 unless specific.
Canine treadmills can be found at www.dogtread.com, www.pawwws.com, www.jogadog.com, and www.dogtrotter.net. The first website also sells instructional DVDs. Here is a link to a youtube video that teaches the basic principles of treadmill training for your dog www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0-2C_EUer0. This puppy is a little young to put a lot of stress on his bones and joints; however, all of the main techniques are well covered. Cheers to good health for all of your cherished companions.