Thursday, October 3, 2013

By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills

 by Susan E. Davis, PT

Canine Surf underwater treadmill

Treadmill walking can benefit your dog’s health and lifestyle, but which type to choose is the question:  by land or by sea?

The following is a comparison between land and underwater treadmills.
I am a big fan of leash walking as a primary form of dog exercise, but factors such as weather, uneven terrain and environmental distractions can make it difficult, especially if your dog has a health or other unique condition.

The forward mechanics of walking outdoors on pavement or grass require the body to speed up and slow down while propelling the body ahead.  

On a treadmill there is no true forward propulsion as the treadmill belt cycles under the board so the body is essentially keeping up rather than pushing forward.  This is why outdoor walking is generally preferable in terms of functional strengthening, but treadmill walking is sufficient similar to outdoor land walking to be of benefit.

The “regular” or land treadmill, offers the ability to walk indoors, free from the elements or other distraction.  

They are typically used with dogs that have higher level of functioning are can comfortably weight bear on their limbs.

These treadmills should have low side guarding walls along the whole length of the unit as well as in the front. The walls should be high enough so the dog can’t easily jump off but low enough to have full physical access to guide and support the dog as needed.

Can you use a “human being” treadmill instead?  

Well, yes you can but they are not as safe as ones made specifically for animals, so you need to carefully discern if your dog has the agility and coordination to safely negotiate a human treadmill.


GoPet Tread Wheel
Treadmills manufactured for pets also have special tread belts that will not scuff or irritate most paw pads.

The newest type of indoor walking device on the market for animals is a “tread wheel”: similar to what a hamster uses! I saw it last February at the Westminster Dog Show and found it to be very interesting!  This is dog-powered, compact in size, requires no electricity and comes in sizes to accommodate toy through giant breeds!

Underwater treadmills are enclosed, self-contained units that allow a dog to walk partially submerged in water and are typically found in canine rehabilitation centers. 

Oasis canine underwater treadmill. Photo Joseph Thomson

For dogs with balance and weight-bearing problems, the water offers buoyancy to take pressure off of painful stiff joints and hydrostatic pressure to support the body from falling.

In general, the clinician will start with higher levels of water and gradually reduce the level as the dog improves in balance, endurance and strength.

Underwater treadmills have controls that alter the treadmill speed, depth of water, temperature and resistance by air jets.  

These adjustments help your therapist and veterinarian control how the dog exercises and consistently reproduce the experience.

Items such as limb floats (similar to a child’s arm pool float), and floatation vests with attached harnesses can be added for safety, as well as to target specific areas of the body for assistance and strengthening.

Your veterinarian or physical therapist can help you choose which type of treadmill would be of greatest benefit to your dog.

Simple treadmill walking programs can be designed for adjusting the correct speed, incline and duration, and progression as your dog improves.  

Parameters can be set for “maintenance” levels to help your dog keep a steady state of fitness and health.  At no time should a dog be left unattended on any type of treadmill.


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery


  1. SO wish we could get an underwater treadmill! We have the DogPacer. Kayo always prefers to go outside. These days we only really use it when it's raining intensely, which doesn't happen often.

    1. Yes, a treadmill can never replace outdoors exercise, for a number of reason. It can work in conjunction with it, or as physical therapy, but it will never make up for the mental stimulation outdoor exercise brings.

      Having an underwater treadmill would be awesome. Unfortunately, they are very expensive.