A treadmill is a great way for your dog to exercise, especially during the cold Chicago winters. However, dog treadmill training is not something all dogs take to easily.
In fact, in my experience, about 90 percent of the dogs I’ve trained to walk on a treadmill freak out initially. But it’s a completely normal reaction and is many times accompanied by peeing, pooping, alligator rolling, shutting down and overall resistance.
Even with the speed super low, many dogs will respond the same, and in those cases, incentivizing them with food isn’t an option. When a dog’s brain gets too overloaded with stress, things like treats and praise go out the window. This calls for a different approach and the use of what positive reinforcement trainers call “aversive methods.”
Sounds bad, I know, but it’s simply a means for them to dissuade the general public from seeking help from trainers like myself. There is a lot of drama in the dog training world, but that’s a topic for another newsletter.
In the video at the top of the page, I demonstrate how I use an electronic collar to override Mona’s flight response and get the brain to accept the idea of being on the treadmill.
How Dog Treadmill Training Counteracts a Dog’s Flight Response
Essentially, what you’ll see in the video is that when Mona stops moving forward on the treadmill, she’s met with tension on the leash that keeps her body in place.
Simultaneously, I’m utilizing the remote collar at a low level to motivate her to move in the direction of the tension, which goes completely against their instinct.
When a dog is met with pressure, it is their natural tendency to pull away, which only causes more tension. This is called “opposition reflex.” This is why when a dog feels pressure against their neck or chest from a leash or harness, they pull away from it. Many behavior problems, like reactivity, are a result of the opposition reflex.
That being said, when they pull back and are met by tension, the stimulation from the collar helps break that state of mind, which causes them to move forward.
I see it happen all the time, and it’s truly remarkable to watch when done well. You can literally see a dog’s posture change as they build confidence from being pushed beyond their comfort zone.
Once they learn the context of “the remote happens when my flight kicks in” all I have to do is tap them, should they go into flight mode, to redirect their brain to go back to the task at hand.
For example, with Mona, there are a couple of points where she stopped walking and I tapped on the collar to wake up her brain and she begins moving again. After so many attempts, if she happens to jump off, I just tick on the remote and she’ll hop back on and continue walking.
Using This Technique to Correct Other Dog Behaviors
I also use this technique on pooches that are afraid to approach people. It’s really just playing a trick on their brain so they begin to think that moving away from people is “negative.”
But by forcing them to move toward a person, they learn the “negative” goes away, and then the person they were afraid of is perceived as a “positive.” I actually used this thought process on a Border Collie I rehabbed a couple of years ago named Buck.
You can see his rehab video here.
That wraps up this week’s newsletter. I hope you learned a lot and are able to — in one way or another — apply this to your understanding of your own personal dog when training. Even if your goal is to simply reduce frustration because they’re not responding the way you’d like them to due to their opposition reflex kicking in.
Owner – Operator
Canine Perspective, Inc.