Q. We have a Pit Bull who needs a lot of exercise, but my husband and I have health limitations. On our veterinarian’s advice, we got a doggy treadmill, but I have no clue how to get my dog to walk on it. Where do we start?

A. Dog treadmills are a practical way to meet a dog’s exercise requirement when there are limitations, like severe weather or an owner’s health condition, preventing the same exercise from being done outside. I experienced this predicament myself with my two Pugs when I was put on bed rest while pregnant with my daughter, Reagan.

The first step in using the treadmill is to have your veterinarian recommend an exercise goal — either an amount of time or a distance — that will benefit your dog. Keep in mind that your dog will require exercise interaction outside of the home even if his main exercise is on the treadmill; this can be done in various ways, including training classes, shorter walks, doggy day care or a trip to the pet store to pick out a favorite chew.

Getting your dog accustomed to the treadmill will take time and patience, but the extra work is worth the payoff. If you rush your dog into using the treadmill without the proper training, he may panic and try to jump off and possibly get injured. Take the training slow and go at a pace where your dog feels comfortable.


Getting Comfortable With the Treadmill

Start by familiarizing your dog with the sound of the treadmill by having him sit or stand, on leash, a few feet away from the treadmill. Turn the treadmill on and give him a treat while it’s running; this will create a positive association with the treadmill before he’s even been on it. Once he is accustomed to the sound, get him used to stepping on and off the treadmill while it’s not running. Use a hand target or a food lure to coax him on to the treadmill from the back and treat him while he is standing on the treadmill. Help him dismount off the end of the treadmill in the same manner.

Prevent your dog from jumping off the side of the treadmill by always moving him off and on the treadmill from the back (never from the side). In addition, use a leash which should be held tight enough to center him on the treadmill and keep him from falling off the back when he walks. For safety reasons, attach the leash to a front clip harness, rather than a collar, which would constrict air. And take note: It is essential to always supervise your dog when he’s working out — never tie him to the treadmill and leave him alone.

Let’s Go for a Walk

Once your dog is comfortable getting on and off the treadmill, gradually introduce movement. Start at a low speed, one where your dog is barely moving forward. Stand or kneel in front of the treadmill to encourage your dog to move towards you and use a tight enough leash to keep him secure. Your dog may also benefit from the added help of having your hand on his collar as you lead him, although this may either be a comfort or a hindrance, depending on your dog.

Add a verbal cue, such as “let’s go,” just before you turn on the treadmill. This lets your dog know that the treadmill is about to start and he will soon be moving. When you first turn on the treadmill, only have your dog go a few steps at a slow speed before you stop it. As soon as you stop the treadmill, treat your dog where he is standing on the treadmill. Don’t treat your dog while he is walking or jogging on the treadmill, only when he is stopped; it can be difficult for him to both walk and eat at the same time and may hinder his concentration. However, treating him after each session builds a positive association with the treadmill and rewards him for his effort.

As your dog becomes more comfortable on the treadmill, increase the time before the movement is stopped. Alternate between increasing the time you ask him to walk forward and the speed of the treadmill. While some dogs may do okay jogging on a treadmill, other dogs do best only at a walk. If you’re thinking about teaching your dog to jog on the treadmill, be sure to check with your veterinarian first; she can tell you if your dog is healthy enough for this strenuous activity. 

Over time, fade the treats and simply give your dog an enjoyable reward, such as a dental chew or stuffed Kong, after his workout ends. With enough patience and the right rewards, your Pit Bull should soon be getting in his required workouts and having fun at the same time.

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