All dogs need a walk every day, but sometimes the weather won’t allow it, or you just don’t have the time. If you have a treadmill in the house, teaching your dog to use it can eliminate these problems and can also curb behavior problems before they happen by keeping the dog active and tired. With a little practice and patience, this can be an easy, weatherproof exercise method for your pet.
If your dog hasn’t been around the treadmill much when it’s running, he may be a little afraid of it at first. Put a leash on the dog and take him to the area. (Don’t try to pull the dog onto the treadmill yet.) Bring him within a few feet of the machine, turn it on, and let it run for a few minutes to let the dog get used to the sounds it makes and to realize that it isn’t harmful. If he tries to get away from it, gently pull him back to it and sit him down. Do this periodically throughout the day until the dog begins to seem comfortable around it. (This could be characterized by the dog sitting or lying down close to it, or ignoring it entirely while it’s running.)
Important: Be calm and don’t praise the dog while he is getting used to the sound and motion of the treadmill. If he is a little afraid, you will be inadvertently praising him for being afraid of it. Save the praise for the end result.
Once you feel the dog has gotten over the fear of being close to it, put him back on the leash and lead him gently onto the treadmill without any hesitation. Behave as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to do. Have his favorite treats handy and place a few on the belt of the treadmill for him to find. Allow him to stand on the treadmill for a few minutes and eat his treats without the machine running.
Position yourself at the front of the treadmill as you continue to hold the leash. If he doesn’t seem to be afraid, hold the leash lightly and turn the treadmill on to the very lowest setting. If the dog thrashes or protests in any way, get a treat and hold it in front of him to distract him and bring him back into position. Don’t let him have the treat just yet, but hold it in front of his nose. When you are sure you have him focused on the treat and walking comfortably at the slow setting, let him have the treat.
While still holding the leash, begin increasing the speed slowly. Continue walking him for a few minutes (or a little longer if he seems okay) at a moderate speed while holding another treat. Then very gradually slow the treadmill down to a stop. Give him his treat, praise him, and let him off the treadmill. Repeat this process every day for a week or so, lengthening the time for a few minutes or more each day.
When he seems to be starting to get the hang of it, let go of the leash for short periods. If the dog moves, grab hold of the leash and gently reposition him, but keep trying to let go of the leash as you practice. Gradually work up to a good, comfortable speed. If, at any time, he jumps off, begin again from step 2.
Keep practicing and you will eventually be able to eliminate the use of the leash entirely. With a little effort, your dog should eventually be able to walk from 20 to 60 minutes per day, depending on its breed, size, and energy level. This exercise requires patience, but having a tired and happy dog is well worth the effort.