For the owners of sporting dogs the treadmill can be an invaluable piece of equipment, largely misunderstood by the general dog owning public, who feel that it is only used by dog fighters or dog owners of the more seedier type.
The treadmill has been used for well over a century to exercise dogs and its general design has changed little over the time. Of course the invention of ball bearing wheels have made them far smoother and easier to run, some have been motorised, but the basic design has remained the same. In the present day the mill is used to exercise not just dogs, but many of the top racehorse stables use them, and of course many gymnasiums are equipped with human versions, all used for the same purpose, to condition a person or animal despite the weather or space available. Those wishing to obtain a treadmill, soon realise that it is not a cheap piece of equipment. You could expect to pay from Â£350.00 and upwards for a well made, easy running mill with ball bearing wheels and wooden slats. Whichever type you choose to buy however, it must be EASY TO RUN. This is a point that cannot be emphasised too strongly, especially if you have a young or timid dog that you wish to get started on the mill.
The introduction of a young dog to the treadmill can be a very frustrating time, particularly if you have spent a lot of time and money actually obtaining one. It might not be long before you think that all that effort has been in vain, but the key is not to rush the dog/pup into using it. Patience will eventually win through and providing that you follow a few simple rules there should be no real problems. Of course, some dogs just won’t run a mill at all, but with the right guidance the majority will.
A pup is never too young to be shown the treadmill or allowed to stand on it, but care should be taken not to move the belt as this might spook the young dog (say up to 6 months of age). You want to create a fun climate for the pup, so plenty of encouragement should be offered, but always be watchful. The first rule of putting dogs and treadmills together is that ALL EXPERIENCES SHOULD BE GOOD ONES. A friend of mine’s dog recently fell off a mill, although the dog was over 8 years old and had run treadmills for most of his life. It has taken well over a month for the dog to regain his confidence. Now if you were conditioning for a show, then such an event would ruin his training program. The older dog that is showing little interest in the mill can be shown another dog running it, which will usually excite the dog and get him used to the noise that it makes.
The treadmill will assist in building terrific wind in your dog and because it can be used for high intensity exercise it can help to burn fat and calories. The food that you feed a dog is vitally important if he is to be working hard. I have found that about four to six weeks before competition, it is good to change the dogs diet from ordinary food to a high protein type. These are usually about 31% Protein and give the dog boundless energy which seems to increase the eagerness for work.
The mill, good though it is, must be used in conjunction with other workout methods, such as the spring pole and long distance walking. Walking in particular is good for you the owner as well and helps to stop your dog becoming bored. The spring pole can help to develop the dogs bite as well as exercising their neck and back muscles. NEVER let your dog hang with his feet off the ground, as they injure themselves severely and several pitbulls in the USA have broken their backs from falling. Apart from looking good, it does not work the dog much anyway.
Eventually, the time will come to put the dog on the mill and see if he will run it. Where possible, the dog should always be lifted ON and OFF the mill. The gaps in the wooden slats can easily catch a toe and rip it off, which is not only painful to your dog but to your wallet as well – I know from experience and have the vets bills to prove it. Once he has the confidence and is able to use the mill effectively, you should encourage him to speed up by “siccing” him or whatever command he responds to. I have found that clapping rhythmically works well and the dog keeps pace with the claps. You must remember that a treadmill can be very hard work for the dog and so its endurance must be built up slowly. For everyday use there is no need to run the dog really hard. Just allow them to go at their own pace and speed and without being baited. Using the mill every day or every other will help to keep your dog in great shape.
When the dog is being trained hard for competition, etc. there are certain things which must be done in order to ensure the good health of your dog. These are:
01. Walk the dog out before placing him on the mill. Ensure that he empties out. This is important, as the dog cannot give 100% if he has waste in his system and it could strain his kidneys.
02. If you are using a slat mill, always lift a dog on and off in order to prevent foot injuries and subsequent vet bills
03. Immediately after the workout, walk your dog in order to cool him down. Do not allow them to gorge themselves on cold water. Let them drink a small amount of tepid water. If the dog gets real hot during work then use a sponge to dampen his mouth, but do not allow them to drink. This will slow them down and they might even vomit.
04. If the dog becomes tired, stiff or disinterested in the work, then there is something wrong which might be associated with overworking. The dog should be given complete rest for three or four days then slowly begin training again. When a dog is overworked he is described as being “stale”. This is best prevented by watching the dog carefully whilst they’re working, keeping a careful note of how much work they do and by how much its workout increases. This will give you an indication, should they go “stale”, just how much work your dog can take, helping you to prevent problems in the future.
Finally, as has already been mentioned, whilst working your dog on a mill ensure that they enjoy it and only have positive experiences. If they don’t enjoy it or get hurt whilst using it, it can be very hard, if not impossible, to get them to run it again. Buy the best and easiest running mill you can afford and it will allow you to keep your dogs in top condition for years to come.