Thursday, February 6, 2014

Run, Rubi! Run!

Welcome to the Polar Vortex! With temperatures dipping well below zero over the past several weeks, the horde and I are more than ready to start complaining about how hot it is. We've all caught a near-terminal case of cabin fever, and we're working hard to keep from crossing the line into total homicidal psychosis. One of the ways I've helped the dogs take the edge off their spazziness is to teach them to run on a treadmill.

We were lucky enough to pick up a free human treadmill from a friend. It's a little banged up, but it gets the job done, and we couldn't beat the price! When picking up a human treadmill to use for dogs, be sure to chose one that is long enough to accommodate your dog's stride. Most treadmills should be okay, unless you have a ginormous mastiff or other giant breed. Another consideration is to avoid treadmills with a bar across the back of the tread belt. If the dog drifts to far back on the belt, their toes could get stuck until the bar, and that would be no fun for anyone. When I was researching this topic, several sites recommended not putting the front of the treadmill against a wall so that dogs wouldn't feel like they're walking into a solid object. My dogs didn't seem to care at all about "walking into a wall," so I suspect this comes down to the preference of the individual dog. And of course, make sure your dog is physically sound enough for treadmill work before starting an exercise routine.

Yes, yes, my house is dirty - this is what I'm doing instead of cleaning it.
To start training my dogs to actually walk on the treadmill, I first trained them to jump up on it into the correct position when it was off. The dogs and I have done a lot of target/mat training, so getting up on the treadmill wasn't an issue for any of them. The tricky part for us was convincing them not to lay down on it, but to stand on the center of the belt facing the right way. I mostly fixed this by rewarding them at the front of the machine and high enough up that they had to stand to get the cookie.

Once they were happily standing on the treadmill in the correct position, I took them off the treadmill, and I deconditioned them to the sounds of the treadmill starting. My treadmill makes a truly horrifying moaning sound three to five seconds before the belt starts moving, and if I were standing on something and it started to make that noise, I would want to get off it as fast a humanly possible. So I pulled the each dog to the side, started the machine, gave them cookies when the noise started, and then shut the machine off. Lather, rinse, repeat until the dogs thought the treadmill sound was awesome because it made cookies happen.

Damn cats.

Once the dogs were thoroughly happy with the fact that treadmills are a thing, we were ready to start walking on them. This next part seemed to rely heavily on the individual dog's preference. While most of the dogs were happy to jump on the treadmill once it had started, Marnie and Maus both would rather be standing on the treadmill and then have it start. There doesn't seem to be an advantage or disadvantage for having the dogs jump on the treadmill once it had already started versus starting the treadmill once the dogs are already on it - aside that the dogs were each more comfortable with one instead of the other.

We started out slow, and we're adding speed at the pace each dog feels comfortable. This means that my shier dogs like Maus and Jai are still walking slowly and getting lots of cookies while confident dogs like Allister and Rubi are booking it. I'm not letting anyone go any faster than brisk trot for safety reasons; if they stumble, a faster pace can really send them flying. I've also added a leash to remind the dogs to keep moving when they occasionally grab a treat and stop walking to eat it. The leash isn't there to force them to stay on the treadmill, and I never, ever tie it to the treadmill - if they stumbled while tied to the treadmill, they could get seriously hurt. It's just there are as subtle reminder to keep moving.

Treadmill work has been great for helping the dogs take the edge off their cabin psychosis. To help tire out our brains, I've also increased how often I hand out puzzle toys, and signed up for a few online and out'n'about training classes. Between the mental and physical work, I'm starting to believe we might just survive this winter after all.


  1. Thank you for the excellent tips and encouragement. Saving to buy one of these for my energetic Pit. I know she will love it once she gets accustomed to the sound, but that might be her stumbling block. She is sound-reactive. Thankfully, I am patient. :)

  2. Well done!! Love the positive approach. Have fun!

  3. I'm have a treadmill and a stir crazy german shorthailr/lab mix. I am going to take your suggestions and see how it goes. :) He learns quick so I know we can get there I just hope I'm not increasing his endurance. ha!