According to the National Academy of Sciences, one quarter of the dogs and cats owned as pets are obese. Overweight pets develop many health related problems just like people do. As with people, diet and exercise keeps dogs at a healthy weight, preventing complications like: arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
It’s difficult to give a dog all the exercise he requires, especially if you own a highly energetic dog. Taking your dog for a twenty minute walk is not enough to keep him fit. There are many ways to exercise your dog other than just a daily walk.
If you have a fenced in area or trust your dog to stay with you in the yard, playing ball or fetch is a great way to get your dog running which develops both his muscles and heart. Another idea is to set up agility equipment in the yard or take a class where your dog can exercise both his brain and his muscles. Making five or six jumps in the yard and teaching your dog to run the course is an excellent source of exercise.
When you don’t have the time or the space to do these activities with your dog, a treadmill is the ideal solution. A treadmill offers your dog all the exercise he needs, not matter if you have a small or large dog. Teaching your dog to use the treadmill takes patience but once your dog is comfortable on it, he will love it.
Steps to Teaching a Dog to Use the Treadmill:
Remember that your dog will not be able to do all these steps in one day. It can take up to two weeks to follow these steps completely and have a dog that really enjoys climbing onto the treadmill. Be patient and your dog will run enthusiastically onto the treadmill in no time.
1. Have a handful of your dog’s favorite treats ready. Your dog doesn’t need an entire dog biscuit for a treat. A small kibble size treat is fine. The first five steps are trained with the treadmill OFF. Don’t turn on the treadmill until your dog is comfortable and shows no hesitation when getting on.
2. If you use a clicker to train your dog, it can be used for the treadmill as well. If not, that’s okay. Just use the word, “Yes”, when your dog does the correct command. Be patient and enthusiastic when training your dog to use the treadmill.
3. Introduce your dog to the treadmill by letting him sniff it and walk around it. Place a treat on the treadmill and allow your dog to take the treat. When he takes the treat, either click or say, “Yes” enthusiastically. Only do this for a few minutes and end the training session for the day.
4. Next day, begin the same way, allowing your dog to sniff and walk around the treadmill. Most likely, your dog will already associate the treadmill with receiving treats. This time climb on the treadmill yourself and call your dog to you. If your dog puts even one paw on the treadmill, click and treat or say, “Yes” and treat. The objective is to alleviate any fear your dog may have with standing on the treadmill. Continue this exercise until your dog will get on the treadmill with you without hesitation. Some dogs will do this right away; others will take a few days to become comfortable on the treadmill.
5. Once your dog will get on the treadmill with you, begin training him to climb on the treadmill alone. Just let him stand or sit on it a few minutes, then treat him and call him off. Repeat this for a few minutes and end your training session.
6. Once your dog enjoys climbing on the treadmill and staying on it until called off, it’s time to turn it on. The first few times, just have your dog stand on the treadmill as usual and treat him. Then turn on the treadmill to its slowest speed while your dog is standing on it. The dog will automatically begin walking. Treat him while he is walking on the treadmill. Only do this for a minute or two and end the session.
7. The next day, repeat the procedure and start the treadmill slowly. If your dog seems comfortable walking at the lowest speed, you can increase it to the next number. Remember that your dog is not accustomed to walking on a treadmill so you should start out slowly.
8. Now, it’s time to develop your dog’s endurance on the treadmill. Just like people, your dog needs to build up his stamina. Start the dog’s treadmill training with only five minutes and gradually increase his time daily. Eventually, your dog will be able to do a steady trot on the treadmill for twenty or thirty minutes, maybe more. Make sure to decrease the speed of the treadmill, letting your dog cool down before he gets off. Treat him when he finishes his workout.
Remember to make the treadmill fun for your dog and never leave him alone for even a minute. Stay with your dog the entire time he is exercising, encouraging him and watching for fatigue. Don’t let your dog get to the point where he is lagging and struggling to keep up with the treadmill or all your progress will be lost. It is very difficult to retrain a dog that becomes fearful.
Keep your dog healthy and prevent all the problems associated with pet obesity with regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Resources: National Academy of Sciences
Personal Experience Training Dogs to Use the Treadmill