It brings back some really good memories to me. Even for only that reason a chapter can’t be missed on this website.
Max and his stopwatch
As it was the day of yesterday, I can still see my Dad, Max, on his chair, a book in his hand, a stopwatch in the other hand.
Training the dogs in pairs on our treadmills.
Use of the treadmill
Another important reason to write about this subject is expressing our concern about how many people use this great tool in a completely wrong way.
There are a thousand and 1 reasons to use a treadmill in your training program. Reasons like the weather, helping decrease anxiety, building confidence, and many more.
We will be only highlighting the 2 main reasons here, the main reasons for ourselves why we use a treadmill in our training program.
1. Perfecting the gait of your dog
2. Get your dog into shape
Afterwards we will give you some practical tips how to start off, or how to learn your dog to use a treadmill. And some do’s and don´ts.
1. Perfecting the gait of your dog
The breed standard says the following about the gait:
“The American Staffordshire Terrier’s gait should be springy without roll or pace.”
An Amstaff movement should be agile and graceful. It should be a springy gait that advertises the breed´s innate confidence, it should be effortless and tireless.
There is no wasted motion, no hackney action. His feet do not turn in, nor wing out.
His well arched feet, moderate angulation, powerful muscles and generally good physical condition should provide him with this springy gait.
Springy gaits denote apart of athleticism, a state of mind. It should appear light on its feet and ready for whatever happens.
In my humble opinion the first fundaments are laid by the breeder of the dog.
The breeder should make sure that he “creates” a dog that will be able to fulfil all the above.
Secondly, if we use the treadmill in a right way, we will be able to fine-tune and “adjust” the dog’s movement almost to perfection.
But it first requires understanding how the movement of your dog works, and how it should be.
I see dozens and dozens of American Staffordshire’s, moving in a spectacular way.
But at the end, it’s not the specific movement that an Amstaff should possess.
Understanding dog movement
Dog movement requires an understanding of the coordinated structure in the front and the rear assemblies.
I am not going to bore you with all the differences in the different movements, and the movement faults there are, neither will I go too much into detail of the autonomy of the dog.
There is more than enough literature written by experts that explain this all-in the finest detail.
In a perfect world, when the dog moves away, the forelegs and rear pasterns should remain parallel to one another.
When viewing movement from the front, the forelegs should remain parallel, with elbows and paws moving neither moving in nor out.
From the rear, the back pads should be visible when the rear legs are extended.
As the speed increases, the forelimbs and hindlimbs will converge to the centre line of gravity.
From the side, the topline of the dog should remain firm and level, not bob up and down or roll from side to side.
Moderate reach of movement
Good moderate reach of movement in the front allows the forepaw to extend out in a line with the nose.
The width between the forefeet when extended should be approximately equal to the width between the hindfeet when extended, indicating balance, moderately good reach, and his rear legs should drive him powerfully. His movement should leave tracks in 2 lines, rather than 3 or 4.
The word moderate is key here!
His feet stay close to the ground, efficient yet springy with controlled power.
When you have a trained eye, like a judge or a breeder, you will be able to see the faults in the dog’s movement when it’s on the move.
Another way to detect any faults (or virtues) is to record the movement of the yourself and play it back in slow motion.
Judges evaluate movement in the show ring three ways, from the side, going and coming.
These are the traditional techniques used to reveal the faults and see the virtues of a dog’s gait.
Relation to the treadmill
How do we revert all this information now back in relation to the treadmill?! Very simple.
Every dog has a certain speed by which it´s movement is at its best.
So first you must establish the perfect speed for your particular dog.
It all depends on the size, the weight, length, and height, and anatomic of the dog.
The accepted showring gait is called the trot.
We don´t want a pacing gait.
What is a pacing gait?!
Dogs will move by using a walk, trot, gallop, or a pacing gait.
The walk is a four-time gait, with each leg landing before the next foot leaves the ground.
The trot is a two-time gait, with diagonal pairs of legs landing and pushing off at the same time.
A pacing gait is the most efficient gait for a dog in terms of saving energy and is mainly used because of fatigue or a physical weakness
A video for explaining to people what a pacing gait is, is the following video;
Starts at 0.37 minute, up to second 47. At the end you will see the 6 different gaits in 1 moving picture.
We neither want a rolling gait.
A rolling gait, or waddle, is a swaying movement of the hindquarters usually due to weak loins and the inability to spring off the hindquarters.
Structural faults such as looseness in the hip joint can cause a dog to roll, but so can obesity or a lack of exercise.
A young dog that rolls often firms up when it matures.
As well for an Amstaff, lack of drive and reach, or crabbing are serious faults.
What’s left now is establishing the perfect speed for your dog´s gait. What we are looking for is the trot.
I noticed that the perfect speeds for my female dogs on the treadmill are around the 5 to 6 km per hour, and a larger male can go up to almost 7 kilometres per hour.
Again, it can vary from dog to dog.
By training the dog regularly at its perfect speed, you will make it an automatism for the dog. Once in the show ring, and handled in a correct way, the dog will automatically adapt to the speed it has been trained at.
2. Getting your dog into shape
Whilst your dog now is trained to use the treadmill in a good way and feels comfortable to use it at a certain speed.
Now you can set up a training schedule for your dog.
Look at it as going to the gym yourself. Every person needs a different intensity of work out. The same applies to your dogs.
We have trained dogs that after 15 minutes had enough, and on the other hand we have dogs that after 45 minutes we have difficulties to get them off the treadmill.
Building up the intensity
Build it up. Start with 5 minutes increases every week. Initially you can start every other day.
Once the dog is well trained you can make the treadmill exercise part of a daily routine and you can bump mill times up to about 30 or 40 minutes.
Warming up and cooling down
Use at least 5 minutes warming up and cooling down. Implement interval routines.
Write down your routine, observe your dog, weigh your dog, and adjust and fine tune the work out.
Never forget that rest is as important as the exercise itself.
Obviously, it is understandable that a good work out goes hand in hand with good quality food intake.
Never use a treadmill just after your dog has eaten.
A few tips to make your dog feel comfortable with a treadmill
Patience is key. With a bit of luck your dog can be using a treadmill within minutes.
Never use excessive force, don’t create stress, and avoid panic.
I always like to start dogs of with the treadmill already moving at a very slow pace.
We put the dog on the leash an put forward leash pressure towards the direction of the treadmill, and release this pressure when she is uncomfortable, or lifts her foot up to step on the treadmill.
Definitely not push the dog behind its comfort zone. Important is the timing of putting pressure and releasing the leash.
The dog needs to understand that you are there to help it and support it to this challenging concept. Once the dog finally jumps up, you use the leash to point the dog straight.
Increasing the speed
Now the dog has it 4 paws on the treadmill it’s important to increase the speed. If the speed is to slow there will be a very unnatural gait for the dog.
So, we need to get the speed up so that she can walk more comfortably.
If the dog is comfortable, I loosen the leash a bit to allow the dog to slide down the treadmill a little bit to let the dog feel there is a boundary there.
The first time guide the dog back up with the leash.
But there comes a moment that the dog will self-regulate and corrects itself. If there would be a panic now, I would let the dog jump of and start the process again.
But in normal occasions, when the dog is treadmill trained, I never let them jump on, or off, whilst the treadmill is moving.
And to finish it off, I switch the treadmill off and guide her back of the treadmill.
Using food and toys or not?
We found out that using food, or toys are not the right way forward to get them to like the treadmill.
The dog needs to be focused and made to feel comfortable by introducing the mill to him in a gentle way.
Harness or leash?
Personally, I don’t like using a harness for the dog, I have the feeling it can limit movements, or cause irritation, and I find it is more difficult to give small corrections.
Therefore I use an ordinary (show)leash the majority of the time.
Reward your dog
After the cool down spend some time playing with your dog. Or doing another one of your dog’s favourite activities.
This will go a long way to shaping your dog’s behaviour towards the treadmill to make it something they enjoy doing.
My personal preference goes out to a computerised treadmill whereby you can adjust the speed.
I remember that we had basic treadmills years and years ago where by the dog had to put the belt in motion itself.
In 9 out of the 10 cases it was very difficult or almost impossible to regulate the speed.
The dog ran far too fast, which made that you do more damage than good in “adjusting” the animal’s gait, or the dog just did not want to run at all.
There are no-motorised treadmills as well that have a brake build in, a sort of speed limiter. Which makes that the dog can´t go faster than a certain speed.
Here we noticed that the dog saw it as a challenge to overcome the function of the brake, and used all his force to get into a faster movement.
Which resulted in a twisted unnatural gait for the dog.
So over time we replaced the manual ones for motorised ones where we could regulate the speed.
Use of the inclination
As our treadmills have as well the possibility to put the treadmill in an incline, we never use this feature.
This position puts a lot of force on your dog’s lower back and hips.
For humans anything above a 7% incline continuously can lead to achilles and back injuries.
Although your dog is structurally different than you are, exercising at extreme inclines for long periods of time can lead to overuse injury – especially when there is a weak core or back to begin with.
While increasing hind limb strength is important, don’t make excessive incline work the entire workout.
It would be better to slow down the speed and encourage targeting of all the major muscles of the hind limbs and lower back.