Treadmill Training for the Canine in Your Life

10/18/2013 12:47 pm ET | Updated Dec 18, 2013

Treadmill workouts can be a great alternative to outdoor walks for your dog during the long, cold days of winter.

Your pet is designed by nature to be active. Just as your dog or cat needs fresh drinking water and nutritious food, she has a similar innate requirement for physical activity. Healthy puppies and kittens constantly express their desire for movement through play and exploration, as do children.

However, mature dogs and cats, like human adults, can lose touch with their instinctive drive to exercise. If your pet isn't provided opportunities to express her body's need for physical activity, her loss of muscle tone and body condition can set her up for soft tissue and joint injuries.

Lack of sufficient aerobic exercise is also a major contributor to the rising pet obesity trend and the serious, debilitating diseases that go along with it. It also sets the stage for behavioral problems brought on by physical boredom and lack of mental stimulation. This is especially true for working breeds and other dogs with a very high need for activity.

A Treadmill Can Help Your Dog Stay in Shape

Since it's not always practical to exercise your dog outside due to weather or time constraints, a treadmill can be a great tool to get your pup active and maintain or improve his weight and physical condition.

If you have a small or medium size dog and already own a treadmill designed for people, you can begin training your pup today to use the machine. It's dangerous, however, to put a large dog on a too-small treadmill, so if you're unsure whether your pup can use your machine, talk with your veterinarian or a knowledgeable trainer or pet physical therapist.

If you have a large breed dog with a long stride, you may need to consider purchasing a treadmill designed specifically for canines. Dog-powered treadmills run in the $300 to $500 range. Motorized equipment is more costly, from about $500 all the way up to $3,000, depending on size, special features, brands and manufacturers.

Tips for Treadmill Training Your Pup

Training your dog to use a motorized treadmill will require a bit of patience and persistence. Be very careful not to push her too hard initially -- most dogs can quickly develop permanent fear of machines that move and make noise (vacuum cleaners, for example). If your pet gets spooked and develops an aversion to the treadmill right away, she may never get comfortable enough to enjoy using it.

• Situate the treadmill so it isn't facing a wall, and neither is your dog. Your pup is too smart to walk into an immovable surface, and she'll assume she's about to if the equipment is facing a wall.

• Start by getting your dog used to standing on the treadmill while it's turned off. If you normally use training treats to teach your dog new behaviors or reward good performance, now is a good time to break those out.

• Some dogs will get right up on the belt. Others will be more reluctant. If your dog seems nervous about climbing aboard, it might help to step on and off the machine with him at first, extending the time you spend on the belt with each practice.

• Repeat the on-and-off practice, giving treats and praise each time your dog gets on the belt, until she's interested in the treadmill and comfortable getting on and off by herself. This may take awhile, but it's the most important step.

• Next, bring your pet close to the equipment and turn it on. Let your pet see that it's a moving object before putting him on it while moving. Give treats and praise until he's able to stand or sit calmly right by the moving belt.

• Now it's time to put your dog on his leash. Set the treadmill at a very slow speed with no incline and either place him on the belt or coax him onto it, praising lavishly and giving treats.

• Holding your dog's leash upwards and taut, stand next to her on the machine as she takes steps on the belt -- like you're out for a walk with her. Continue praising and giving treats. Repeat this step as many times as it takes to get your dog comfortable walking on the treadmill. You may need to stand in front of the treadmill, holding the leash and some treats, to encourage him to walk toward you. You may want to walk on the treadmill with him initially until he's very accustomed to the motion of the machine.

• Always keep your dog leashed or harnessed while he's on the equipment to ensure he stays centered on the moving belt, and remain with him at all times.

• Start out slowly with 30-second to 1-minute sessions. Move up to five to 10-minute sessions and build from there to 20 or 30 minutes of walking and trotting. You can also experiment with gradually inclining the belt to give your dog a more challenging workout.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at:

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.