A couple of weeks ago “oh holland” posted, "I hear NYC radio ads pitching treadmills and treadwheels as indoor exercise contraptions for city dogs. Instinctively I hate them, but would really appreciate a post on the topic..."
As I replied at the time, my professional experience with canine treadmills is strictly limited to their role in physical rehabilitation. In that setting they can certainly be beneficial, but when it comes to their use in the home, I think their value is limited. Here’s why.
Treadmills and treadwheels are no substitute for outdoor exercise. When a dog goes for a walk or run, chases a ball in the park, etc., the activity engages his mind and all of his senses. He sees and hears new things around every corner, smells an entire universe that we cannot even begin to comprehend, might get a chance to "chat" with a canine friend, and so forth. The mental stimulation that comes from getting away from the familiarity of home and into a new environment is at least as important as the exercise. Having occasionally run on a treadmill myself, I know that these are about the least mentally stimulating contraptions ever invented (second only to an exercise bike, perhaps).
I’m sure more than a few of you are thinking, that’s great but I don’t have the time to take my dog out for a long walk every day. Understood, but have you looked at the price tag for canine treadmills? They are not cheap. You could arrange a lot of outings with a professional dog-walker or a neighborhood kid for $500 to $2,500.
It suffices to say I’m not a big fan of treadmills and treadwheels for dogs, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t imagine a few situations where they might be beneficial. For example, if despite getting ample mental stimulation from time spent outdoors, a dog is still bursting with energy, then yes, exercising on a treadmill could help burn off some steam. I’m thinking particularly of a situation where an owner might get their dog outside for a good amount of time or provide a lot of indoor environmental enrichment, but due to physical limitations may not be able to run or walk long distances.
Treadmills and treadwheels might also have a role to play in helping some overweight dogs lose weight. Research has shown that in most cases owners cannot provide their dogs with enough exercise to significantly impact the amount of weight that comes off and stays off. Time constraints probably play a role. If an owner could hook the dog up to the treadmill two or three times a day while he or she is folding laundry or helping the kids with their homework, the extra exercise could help with weight loss and maintenance.
My point boils down to this. If you are looking at getting your dog a treadmill or treadwheel for exercise in addition to ample time spent outdoors, then go for it, and let us know how it works out. But, if you think that by putting your dog on the treadmill while you watch reruns of Law and Order you can skip the evening walk, think again.
Dr. Jennifer Coates