Can’t Go Out for a Walk? Here’s How to Train Your Dog on a Treadmill
Outside is always better than a treadmill, but sometimes you have no choice.
Fall is nearly here, and winter—bringing snow and frigid temperatures—won’t be far behind. When the weather gets bad, many of us two-leggeds turn to a longtime frenemy to get our steps in: the treadmill.
Turns out, you can teach your dog to walk on the treadmill, too. You just have to be sure you’re doing it safely and constantly supervise your dog when she’s using it. Keep in mind, there are plenty of other ways to exercise your dog at home, too, whether that’s fetch or swimming in the bathtub, so if your dog won’t warm up to the treadmill, consider another option.
When Can You Put a Dog on a Treadmill?
An important note: If you can walk your dog outside, do that. Using the treadmill should only occur when it’s impossible to go outside—such as frigid temperatures that would harm your pup’s paws—or if your dog is using it for physical therapy.
If you get the go-ahead, it should be pretty easy to train your dog, says Darryl Millis, an expert in canine rehabilitation and veterinary sports medicine. It could take as little as a few minutes.
But first, talk with your veterinarian or a certified canine fitness trainer to make sure using a treadmill is a good idea. Smaller breeds, for instance, might be better off getting their exercise by swimming in a bathtub or sink or playing games around your house.
How to Walk Your Dog on a Treadmill
Millis recommends first letting your dog stand on the unmoving treadmill belt, using plenty of positive reinforcement and rewarding her with treats. Then, start the treadmill at its slowest setting so the dog isn’t surprised. Lure your pup to walk with a treat and offer plenty of encouragement.
Start slow, make sure your dog is comfortable when the belt starts moving. If your dog only walks, then only have her walk on the treadmill. Don’t make her move faster than she normally would. If your dog can run or trot, then you can speed it up to that pace, Millis says. Have her walk only a few minutes during her first session and then, over the course of several days, work up to about 15-20 minutes. Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, RBT, and Daily Paws' pet health and behavior editor, says dogs shouldn’t walk any longer than that on a treadmill because they tire and bore faster walking on it than they do outside.
Be careful of “in-between” speeds, too, Millis says. You don’t want your pup confused on whether she should walk or run. He suggests a workout consisting of a 3–5 minute warm-up walk, then some trotting followed by 3–4 minutes of cool-down walking.
Even after your dog has mastered the treadmill, still keep a close eye on her as she’s using it. Look out for panting or your dog laboring to keep up, Millis says. When that happens, it’s time to immediately slow down to a walking speed before eventually shutting it off for the day. You should end the workout before your dog gets to that point.
Veterinary Behavior Solutions offers additional tips on training your dog to use the treadmill, including a way to help your dog overcome her fear of the treadmill. Basically, it involves getting your dog to associate the sound of the treadmill with treats, the way, say, humans might associate Altoids with a computer noise. If she’s still afraid, consider another exercise option.
If you follow these tips—please, please be safe—then your pup will be off and, ahem, running in no time.