Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Treadmill update

My co-workers at the newspaper office are fascinated by the fact Phoenix will run on a treadmill. I think it’s the same kind of fascination that makes people stare at car crashes on the interstate and gawk at the two-headed calf at the state fair. The things I do with my dogs are so far removed from their casual relationships with their family pets (not that they don’t love their family dog, but you KNOW it’s different for people who train and trial like we do) that they can’t wait to hear what bizarre thing my dogs are doing now. Running on a treadmill falls into that category.

I promise to post video soon but we aren’t quite there yet. I say “we” because this is very much a team event. Phoenix is not quite skilled enough that he can run independently while I move around the room. I may have to recruit the Farmer to either run the camera or be Phoenix’s “spotter” in order to get video.

The biggest thing both Phoenix and I have learned about the treadmill in the last week is that walking on a moving surface is perhaps more of a challenge than the speed itself. I was able to easily increase my own walking speed once I got used to keeping my balance on a moving surface and so has he.

His first several treadmill lessons were done at a very low speed, about 2 mph. This included lots of treats just for staying on the belt. At that point, Phoenix could eat and walk at the same time.

As I started to raise the speed, he clearly had to concentrate on his feet and could not eat and walk at the same time. If I offered a treat, he stopped walking, with predictable results. At that point, I kept cookies in the picture but didn’t offer them until the belt had slowed at the end of each session.

Initially, Phoenix paced. Several friends had told me their dogs did that, too, and while it is not intrinsically bad, it’s not a gait you want your dog to practice, nor is it one that offers optimal conditioning. My goal was to find the speed at which Phoenix would trot and I’m happy to report after a week of daily sessions of just a few minutes of gradually increasing the speed, he starts trotting at about 3.5 mph. It was cool to realize I could tell the second his gait changed from pacing to trotting even though I was standing right next to him, looking down on his back, not at his legs.

This is a relatively slow and effortless speed for him, so I will start increasing both speed and the amount of time I ask him to stay on. I want this to be a very pleasant (and yes, tiring!) activity for him, not work him into total exhaustion. And yes, he gets a warm up and cool down period, just like I do.

The Internet information I have found abut treadmill work with dogs advises against setting the treadmill facing a solid wall. I advise against setting it up facing an open doorway or window! Our treadmill is in the back room of our house, which wasn’t ever intended to be a bedroom but is anyway. A set of double doors opens into the living room and we placed the treadmill so we could open those doors and watch TV while walking, as well as see out the big picture window.

A few days ago, Phoenix was walking along, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, when he looked out the window and spotted a cat. He stopped walking, again with predictable results. Fortunately, he wasn’t going very fast because he flew right off the treadmill. Now when he runs on it, the double doors are shut. Boring but safe.

I’d love to hear from other people whose dogs run on treadmills, especially relating to speed, duration and frequency of workouts.


  1. Hi! I am Judy McPartland's niece. We run our two 4 year old labs on a treadmill at a 6 incline and at a 6.0 pace. They go pretty fast and we keep them on there for about 30 min each. The back of our treadmill is near a wall but they have open space in front of them. Have fun! The treadmill has been a great addition to their/our lives.

  2. No personal experience with dogs on the treadmill, I think it's a fabulous way to exercise and condition them though. I have one upstairs, it mostly has clothes hanging on it, and every so often I get a wild hair and think I'll put the GSD on it. Except this dog is phobic about the laminate kitchen floor, can't imagine he'll be able to work a treadmill standing on his toenails...sigh. Oh and a personal observation, tell Phoenix even though it might seem like a fun thing to do, do NOT walk on the treadmill and close your eyes just to see what will happen.

  3. When I was showing a lot in the breed ring, I put all of my specials on the treadmill. If the dog had a weak rear, it would get more incline, otherwise the incline would be fairly low. Speed was whatever the dog could trot at comfortably, duration was however long it would take the dog to start to look winded (so of course the duration would get longer as the dog got in better condition) and frequency was as close to daily as I could get! ;-)

    This was for the show ring, not for endurance in performance sports but I think I would do the same. Tho I much prefer free running to condition dongs for performance.