by Julia Levitt of In-Harmony Dog Training

My friend just e-mailed me to let me know that, yes, January 20th is National Penguin Awareness Day. Followed up the next day with National Squirrel Awareness Day.

But what is important to us is that January is National Dog Training Month. Now, January seems like a strange month to be aware of dog training. Who wants to go outside – and even more precisely – who wants to walk their dog outside in January?

But in January we can look at some new skills to polish up on and challenge our furry friend at the same time. We might not want to be as diligent as my friend Hannah who puts both of her Jack Russell Terriers on the treadmill and lets them walk briskly for an hour, but we might want to teach our dog to use the treadmill. Believe it or not, you can click “treadmills for dogs” on Amazon and they have treadmills made just for dogs in sizes specific to the weight range your dog falls into. For small dogs, a doggie treadmill fits easily into your closet when not in use. For large dogs, the treadmills are a little cumbersome and it would be preferable to put them in a convenient spot and just leave them there. For most dogs, as demonstrated by Cesar Millan of the Dog Whisperer show, using the treadmill looks easy. It is for some dogs. For others it takes a while to gain their “sea-legs” and to adjust to the motion of the treadmill.

As with any new activity — start slowly. First, before you even ask your dog to get on the treadmill, become familiar with it. Turn it on, and try adjusting the speed. This way you will be confident when you ask your dog to hop on.

The next step is ask your dog to get on the treadmill by encouraging him/her in a confident voice. The dog gets on from the back of the treadmill not the side. Some dogs need more encouragement. A special treat is used at this time. The treat is only given when using the treadmill.

Getting off: sounds simple, and it is, but make sure you don’t let your dog jump off the side. Guiding with your leash, turn the dog around to get it to walk off the back of the treadmill. This way the dog knows it cannot jump off. Make sure the leash is on your dog at all times during this exercise.

Start by doing these “on” and “off” exercises when the treadmill is not in motion. A few times of this, and your dog should be at ease getting on and off the treadmill.

Are you ready to start the workout? No, don’t put on a Jillian Michaels DVD. With the leash on your dog, position your dog facing the front of the treadmill. Turn the machine on to its lowest speed. Let the dog get used to the movement. Gradually increase the speed. Then gradually turn it off. Do not let your dog leap off! Turn your dog around and let it get off the back. The entire first few exercises should be no longer than five minutes at a slow speed. Like any athlete, your dog needs to build up to more time and more speed. Do not rush this!

Points to remember :
· Make this fun by encouraging your dog.
· Always start any new exercise slowly, so you and your dog feel comfortable, and your pet isn’t injured.
· Be prepared by having everything you need set-up next to you – things like treats for your dog or music for you to listen to during the exercise.

Things not to do:
· Do not attempt this training, or any dog training, when you are in a hurry.
· Focus on your dog for the first sessions. The dog needs your complete attention.

Things to have available:
· A leash. Always start this exercise with your dog on a loose leash.
· Treats – your dog’s favorite treat – reserved for use only during training.
· A clock or watch. We don’t want to overdo the first weeks of training, because we don’t want to have our dog getting sore or growing to dislike the treadmill.

Maybe having dog training awareness month in January isn’t such a bad idea after all!

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Ann Arbor Animal Hospital is a locally-owned animal hospital operating for over 90 years in Ann Arbor, MI.