Treadmills provide a way to exercise the dog when the weather doesn’t allow it to do that safely outdoors.
There are motorized and non-motorized dog treadmills.
The motorized ones are similar to the human treadmills, with a few crucial differences that we address in a separate article.
The non-motorized versions work by the dog powering them and pushing back the “carpet/belt” or slats in case of a slatmill. They choose the speed and when to stop, but they usually need to run at full speed to effectively move the belt, while motorized treadmills allow for a trotting speed.
Depending on where you live, there might be times when it’s too hot or too cold outside to exercise the dogs safely. Ice on the ground can also make it impossible for the dogs to get any off-leash time.
High-drive and high-energy dogs still need to burn off their energy, and treadmills are a safe way to do that indoors.
They are also used for building endurance and muscles in a low-impact way, in a controlled environment, and in a controlled way.
Like with everything else, you need to take time to introduce the treadmill to the dog and ensure they make a positive association from the first session. Many think that the dog is just attached to the treadmill on the first session, then we crank up the speed on a motorized treadmill, then leave the poor dog there to run without the option to stop, and they will eventually get used to it. This is not how this process should look like.
When treadmills are correctly introduced, dogs love them!
Both Mia and Zulu jump on it from time to time, asking me to get them started, and they love burning off some energy while running on them. :)
You introduce the treadmill slowly and with small steps. First, just have the dog step on it without the treadmill moving: reward and release.
If you have a motorized one, you can turn it on and off a few times while you reward the dog standing by the treadmill, so they get used to the beeping and the general sounds of the machine.
The next step is to get them on and start moving it very slowly so they get used to the belt moving under them. With our carpetmill, I just moved the carpet with my hands, so they took steps on it. Reward heavily and step back if the dog is uncomfortable during any phase.
When your dog happily jumps on it and starts walking, you can begin encouraging speed on the non-motorized treadmills and slowly speed up the motorized ones.
If you have no experience seeing what a comfortable trotting speed for your dog on a motorized treadmill is, you can ask for the help of a physical therapist. It is essential not to push them too hard but also not to set the speed between their comfortable walking and trotting speed, making them switch back and forth.
Building up duration will also be very gradual, ensuring the dog is happy and comfortable on the treadmill. Dogs choose their speed and when to stop on non-motorized treadmills, but they are still a new way of exercising, so you want to limit how much they are on it at the beginning to prevent overexercising.
Never leave a dog alone while they are on any kind of treadmill!
There is no general rule on the length and speed of the treadmill exercise because it will heavily depend on the dog’s age, health, physical state, and many other factors. Always start with just a few minutes and build up from there.
If your dog is overweight, older, has joint issues, or you have any other health concerns, it’s definitely recommended to discuss using the treadmill with your vet first or ask for a training plan for your dog from someone with more experience on these.
The treadmills features in this article are the Maximum K9 Dog Runner Tracks and the Dawg Powered Sprinter Carpetmill (the latter went out of business recently).
We are currently working on a review for each treadmill and have another article discussing why human treadmills are unsuitable for dogs.