The low-slung basset hound strides along at a brisk pace, engaging in part of the regular exercise routine that keeps her trim and fit. She wears a collar but no leash as she walks on a treadmill designed especially for dogs.
"I don't think it's her favorite activity, but she steps up when we ask her to," said her East End owner. Although the basset hound is frequently leash-walked outdoors "she stops and she sniffs. It became clear that she needed more activity."
He thought her regular but leisurely walks should be supplemented with some kind of continuous aerobic workouts.
So two years ago the family added a dog treadmill to her routine. Twice a week she does a 3-kilometer workout, 30-40 minutes per session. The weight of the 6-year-old dog has remained a steady 45 pounds, which pleases her veterinarian.
Go to youtube.com to see the long-eared spotted dog working out on her treadmill. She has a very business-like look on her face, and at times she looks up into the lens of the camera.
Her owner is not in the video, but he is always right there to supervise the workout, which is advised by treadmill manufacturers and by veterinarians.
One of those veterinarians is Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Boston. He has written four best-selling books on animal behavior, as well as textbooks.
Forty-two percent of dog owners report having problems managing the behavior of their dogs, Dr. Dodman states in his new book, "The Well-Adjusted Dog." Shelters and pounds are overflowing with dogs, many of them taken there because of behavior problems their owners could not live with. While neurotic, hyperactive or simply annoying behavior can have many causes, not enough exercise is often the root of the problems, according to Dr. Dodman.
Most dogs need a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day and others need more, Dr. Dodman says in his book. Aerobic means "exercise that causes dogs to pant and tires them out. It is usually only possible to achieve this level of exercise with a dog off leash -- unless you use a treadmill."
As a veterinarian, he appreciates the physical benefits of exercise, saying canine obesity "has reached the same epidemic proportions that it has in humans. ... One in three dogs in the United States is overweight."
Obesity can take years off the life of a dog and can cause crippling joint conditions and other problems.
But as an animal behaviorist, Dr. Dodman is more interested in the psychological effects of exercise for dogs. "Exercise has both calming and mood-stabilizing effects, of that there is no doubt," he says in the chapter titled, "A Tired Dog Is a Good Dog."
He recommends dog treadmills for owners who have difficulty finding the time or a safe and legal location to run a dog off-leash. Treadmills also are useful when the weather is too hot or too cold for outdoor exercise.
Multiple Web sites have tips for teaching dogs how to use treadmills, including the sites that sell treadmills.
"It is not difficult to train a dog to use a treadmill," Dr. Dodman writes in his book. "It just involves getting on the treadmill with the dog on leash and starting to walk. Most dogs, when given the opportunity to use a treadmill, seem to regard it as an enjoyable, rewarding experience."
Dr. Dodman recommends a 20-30 minute workout but cautions that treadmills "should never be forced on a dog. No dog should be tied to the treadmill, left unsupervised or run to the point of collapse. That constitutes abuse."
While Dr. Dodson says treadmills retail "for about $150 and up," a recent Internet search from various manufacturers showed prices ranging from $599 to $2,995. They come in multiple sizes, depending on the size of the dog. Some are motorized, while others are dog-powered.
The East End basset hound got hers from Pawws PetTreadmills, which offers a 42-inch model for $599 and a 60-inch one for $899. Her treadmill is motorized and can be adjusted to give her a flat running surface or an incline.
Pet owners should consult their veterinarian before starting a dog on an exercise program or increasing current activity. Overweight dogs and dogs that have been getting little or no exercise should start slowly, perhaps with short, leisurely leash walks.
Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-3064.