tread lightly

When the weather outside is frightful, we tend to hunker down inside where temperatures are more delightful. This can translate to expanding canine waistlines during those cold winter months. But did you know that you can exercise your dog indoors? That old treadmill ― yes, the one collecting dust in the corner ― could be the answer!

Treadmill training offers several benefits to four-legged friends — obviously, losing weight and staying fit are the two biggies. Additionally, exercise (especially in the face of winter cabin fever) will help your dog’s mental fitness, staving off boredom and spending energy that might otherwise be used for destructive or anxiety-driven behaviors.

But how do you get your dog started on the treadmill? Begin by checking in with your veterinarian to make sure your pup is fit for exercise. Many dogs naturally love to run, but doing so on a machine may take some getting used to. Slow and steady is the key:

Gearing Up: Always use a collar and flat leash for treadmill sessions, so you can have control in case your dog decides to jump off. Most treadmill belts are a good size for small and medium breeds, but larger pets may need a special dog treadmill with a longer belt. Your vet can advise you on proper proportions.

Paw-sitive Association: If at any point in the lessons your dog becomes scared, stop the training and go back to the last lesson that was comfortable. Forcing your pet to walk on the treadmill before she is ready can cause a lifelong fear, thwarting winter exercise plans. To avoid accidental injury, never tie your dog to the treadmill or leave her unattended, no matter what her level of fitness is.

Slow and Steady: Start by asking your dog to hop up onto the machine while it is off, offering a yummy treat and praise when she does. Then have her hop off ― that’s it for the first lesson! Once she’s comfortable with that, have her stand with you next to the treadmill while you turn it on. Let her see and hear what the machine does before you ask her to walk on it.

Away We Go: When your dog is ready, have her stand on the machine and then start it at a slow walking pace. Stand beside the treadmill holding the leash, just as you would on a walk outside, or squat in front of it first to encourage her to walk. Treats help too! After about 30 seconds, slowly decelerate and turn off the machine. Have your pup “stay” on the treadmill until it has completely stopped, then jump off.

Full Speed Ahead: Start with 30-second to one-minute sessions and gradually work your way up in time, speed and even incline (within reason!). Walking or jogging sessions that are 10 to 15 minutes are perfect for most dogs, though seasoned athletes could enjoy extended workouts.

With these handy tips, you can help your dog keep the spring in her step without either of you having to brave any adverse weather!