My husband thought I was crazy for buying a treadmill for our new dog, until eleven months later when I was recovering from major abdominal surgery. Two days after my surgery, he broke a toe on one foot and fractured a bone in the other foot two weeks later. Of course, he was suddenly very grateful that I purchased a treadmill solely for the purpose of walking our, then 112 pound, puppy. My friend also purchased a treadmill, and together we taught her new service dog to walk on it.
So I would like to give you some ideas and suggestions about how to teach your dog to walk on a treadmill. First, check your own confidence level and attitude, because if you don't think you or the dog can do this, then they won't succeed. Success begins in the mind, with your thoughts and attitude. Be positive, happy and encouraging, but don't overdue it.
Put the treadmill in a location where your dog can get to it easily and treat it like "just another piece of furniture". Before you do any training sessions with your dog on the treadmill, always take them outside to potty. They will get in the habit of this and expect it, which will save you from having to clean up waste on and under the treadmill later.
Play with and feed your dog on the treadmill, no matter what age they are. If your puppy is only 8 weeks old, start now and don't wait until they are older. Spending time just sitting on it and petting your dog so he/she associates that place with positive things.
Don't turn it on! It may not even be a good idea for them to see you walking on it yet either. It's just too freaky. You want your dog to have a positive experience. Patience is the key, because if you cause a moment of fear or shock, it will take much more effort and time to undo one negative experience, than if you just take it slow.
You will be able to tell when your dog is ready for the next step, when they are comfortable, confident and secure about what they are doing. Do this in baby steps, not big ones.
They should not eat or drink before or immediately after the walk. After the walk, they should rest for about 30 minutes and then eat.
Taking your dog for regular walks outside is essential for their physical and emotional health. You are the leader of his/her pack, and packs travel together. It also strengthens their bond to you. They need to travel with their pack leader, and that is you.
The treadmill should never be a substitute for taking your dog for a walk with you. It is very handy, however, when the weather or other events do not permit your usual walk outside.
Next, you want to turn the treadmill on and start it moving on a low speed. While holding your dog on the floor beside the treadmill, put your dogs toys on the treadmill, one at a time, and make a game of watching the toys move from the top to the bottom and fall off the other end. You are just watching. Don't let them jump up on the treadmill while it is moving. You want to show them that the toys move on the treadmill and are okay with it.
After a few minutes, depending on how your dog perceives this exercise, have someone hold your dog while they watch you walk slowly on the treadmill. You want them to see your legs moving, but you stay in one place.
Remember to maintain a positive attitude and be cheerful. If you have done all of these steps correctly, the next step will be easier. If your dog yawns, this is a sign of anxiety as a result of stress. This is normal when they are learning something new that they are unsure about. Don't imitate them or react in any way; just ignore it. They are not bored or tired, just anxious. Continue like nothing is happening. Confidence will replace this emotion and they will stop yawning in time.
This is the most difficult part of teaching your dog to walk on a treadmill, so check your confidence level and attitude before you begin. Allow enough time to do this exercise and make sure you have at least one other person to help you. Take your time and don't force your puppy or dog. Be patient and you will be rewarded for all of your effort.
Hold your puppy with one finger inside their collar, with one hand. Put your other hand behind your puppy. Have someone stand on the treadmill and walk with the dog. This will help the dog to associate moving human legs with his moving legs, like going for the walks he has already done every day before. The person walking with the dog will start the treadmill on the slowest speed and keep it at that speed unless the dog shows signs of difficulty or distress; fear like it's going to die, or other negative emotion. If that happens, pull the "stop". Wait a moment and start it again, but don't let the puppy get off the treadmill and don't comfort or console the dog.
If they do get off, put them right back on without any correction. Act like it's no big deal and continue as before. Later, you will correct them for even thinking about jumping off the treadmill, and scold them if they actually do.
They will most likely spread their paws, crouch down and brace themselves on the sandpaper mat, like a death grip. Use your hand behind their butt and the collar to steady them, but do not pull or push them. When necessary, stop the treadmill and start again.
I position the treadmill so it is up against one wall, in the corner, so another wall is directly behind. That way, if they go to the back, they don't fall off, but are encouraged to continue by the presence of the wall. In time it will be a gauge for them as an indication of how far back they are on the machine. Just don't let their back feet and legs get between the end of the moving tread and the wall.
The exercise is over at the first sign that they have made some improvement, even if it is very small. Always end on a positive note and when you stop. Stop the treadmill, but keep your dog on the treadmill, where you will lavish them with praise.
In time, they will walk on the treadmill with you holding their leash, like they do with you for walks outside. I have found it useful to put the back side of the dog crate along the opposite side of the treadmill from the wall, so my dog is not tempted to jump off that way.
Putting a treat or other desirable thing on the front end of the treadmill will give them something to focus on and perhaps even try to reach, but can't.
Don't increase the speed quickly, and never until the dog gets accustomed to the speed at which he has been walking.
As your puppy grows, their legs will get longer and they can walk just as comfortably as before, but at a faster speed, because their stride is longer and stronger.
Depending on the breed, you may no longer be able to walk on the treadmill with your dog, because they are too big and there is no room.
Above all, never walk away and leave your dog walking on the treadmill unsupervised.
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