Friday, March 20, 2015

Reactive Dog Mom: Reactive Dogs & Teaching Your Dog to Use the Treadmill!

I have a reactive dog. She is particularly reactive toward other dogs. She goes bananas when she sees/hears another dog & her threshold is easily further than across the street at this time. That's pretty far! I get anxious. I avoid busy walking times to minimize the chances we'll run into other dogs. I get frustrated. Sometimes I just want to take a calm walk with my dog! Did it take some time & patience to learn how to manage her 'quirk'? Of course. Did we both need training? Oh yes. I taught her to look to me when we encounter a trigger. We always use proper equipment - harness, leash, safety clips, & martingale collar. Whew! But it works!

Do I wonder if & how I contribute to her reactivity? Often. Do I think she wouldn't be so reactive had I adopted her when she was a puppy (I rescued her at what we guess was 2 years old)? Maybe. But I remind myself that 'reactivity' can be a complex description & its sources even more complex. I get it. You aren't alone. Your dog isn't alone. As reactive pooch parents, we've just got to think outside the box a bit.

Is there hope? Definitely yes!

MANAGE. I've learned tricks from certified professionals & dog-savvy people who understand dog behavior & they've helped me tweak those tricks to work for my dog (redirection with treats, anyone?!). I'm always looking for tips, locations, situations, etc. that set my reactive dog up for success. I'd like to share a tip with you today - let your dog's exercise walk be on a motorized treadmill!

Why use the treadmill?

-Many times a reactive dog (like most any dog) is more reactive to outside stimuli vs. those occurring inside the home. Home stays pretty much the same for them - they're comfortable, they know the smells, sights, sounds. The outdoors brings tons of changing stimuli, often including your dog's triggers (i.e. sights, sounds, smells that trigger a reaction). You may find that as you work to manage your dog's reactiveness, this is a less stressful way (for you both) to exercise your pooch. It might encourage you to tread, too! ;)
- It's easy to teach & their love of 'treading' is natural. It's natural for dogs to work. & focusing to stay on the treadmill & keep moving is work - in a good way. It takes some major brain power!

Do I need a treadmill specifically made for a dog?

Nope. You can easily & safely teach your dog to use a 'human' treadmill. Plus, you'll never leave your dog unattended while she's treading (right?!). You'll always be on hand to stop the machine if need be.

Any safety tips?

-NEVER leave your dog unattended while she is on the treadmill. Not only can that be a safety hazard to her but you also risk a mishap & a bad association with the treadmill. Safety first!
- GO AT YOUR DOG'S PACE. Dogs learn differently just like one person can learn differently from the next. I'll remind you of this throughout.
-If you drop a treat while the treadmill is running, quickly get your dog's attention & offer another! This should discourage them from stopping while the belt is moving :)
-There's a small space between the belt & the panels encasing the belt on each side. If you're concerned a smaller paw or toe might get caught up in that space by accident, try using foam weather stripping to fill the gap. Get the kind that has a sticky side & stick it horizontally along the belt side of those panels. This has never happened to my dog as I purposely encourage she walk toward the middle of the belt. You'll want to encourage your dog to do the same but if you're still concerned, consider filling the gap.  

A pawsitively pawsitive point first.

Remember reactive-dog parents: REACTIVITY COMES ALONG WITH A MILLION GOOD THINGS! For me, I have a well-loved, deserving, smart, silly, intuitive, cuddly, so incredibly loving reactive dog I could just melt. I wouldn't have any other dog than my girl. I accept this part of her & focus on how I can help.

Let's get started.

What you need:
-your dog's harness (recommended for walking. Doesn't damage throat & can aid in proper management of your dog on walks) or regular collar (no chain/choker or prong collars)
-high value treats (treats that really mean a lot to your dog!)
-motorized treadmill

FIRST THINGS FIRST: potty your pooch! Once they get moving it's not uncommon that they cannot hold it. & don't follow a big meal with exercise. I hope this one is a given! :P

SECOND THINGS SECOND: *go at your dog's pace!* I won't stop reminding you. It's okay if you only get 5 minutes out of your pooch. Follow her lead. The idea is to make the treadmill a positive experience as you teach her what she's supposed to do with it. 

Mk9 friend Tinsel, also a rescue dog,
shows how a 'sit' can be part of
getting acquainted with the treadmill.

#1. Introduction: making the treadmill a positive thing.

-call her over, with treats in hand, & encourage her to climb onto the belt. When she gets on it, treat & praise her. (Target train? 'Click' now!)
             *stepping on the belt is difficult for her? Back up a bit. Treat her for coming near the treadmill, or even in the same room. Slowly encourage her toward it. It's okay if session one is just sitting on the belt. *her pace* 

#2. Walking on the moving belt

Mk9's Polly Pocket is guided
on the moving belt. 
Polly is earning those treats!

-stand on the treadmill with a foot on each side of the belt. With harness & leash already on, invite her on the belt with you. Treat her! Praise her! You want to be above your pup, holding her leash. Start the treadmill at LOW speed & hand her treats in front of her nose to guide her straight. (keep the praise & treats coming!) It's okay if this is awkward for your dog. Keep treating her in the right direction & guiding her with the leash. Your legs on each side of your dog will help form sort of a wall, also encouraging the move forward.
Reminder - *her pace*

Tinsel's tail wag says it all!

3. She's moving!

-when your dog is comfortable & walking on her own - let her be! Slowly increase the pace, &/or incline. Determine a pace, incline, & duration that suits your dog. You can wean away the treats over time. 



By no means am I a professional! I have a couple of years under my belt volunteering in dog rescue. I am lucky to work around certified professionals & other highly knowledgeable members of the rescue industry. This blog is simply to let others know what has worked for my pup & I. Using the treadmill does NOT replace her additional mind-stimulation games & exercises we do nor does it replace outside walks we take as often as needed. Please note that you should always, always consult your veterinarian before introducing your dog to a treadmill.

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