As dog ownership grows in popularity, owners have become more in tune with the needs of their dogs. From being more conscious of the food we're feeding, to creating routines, to investing in training - dog owners of this generation are trying to understand and fulfill all the needs of their four legged companions. This is definitely a positive thing; being able to know what our dogs need means that we can then tackle the challenges that come with providing it.
One need that spans across the board for all breeds of all sizes is the need for recreational activity. Let's face it; dogs need to run. They need time to be active and without an outlet to do that, many dogs can become destructive and disobedient in the home. Obesity in dogs is extremely common. Whether it's living in a big city with limited access to outdoor space, or living in a country that has extreme hot or cold temperatures - or just living a demanding lifestyle that doesn't provide much recreational time for you and your dog - obesity is a problem. Dogs with existing health issues or older dogs are more prone to obesity, as well as certain breeds and/or dogs with lower energy levels.
Here's where the Slatmill comes in to play. Believe it or not, slatmills were made and patented before the first human treadmill was! The first Slatmill designed specifically for dogs was made in 1939 by John R. Richards, after taking notes from similar machines made for livestock to automate chores. By 1952, the device became a reliable way to measure and diagnose heart conditions in dogs. Since then, many companies have produced slatmills and treadmills made for dog performance, fitness and health/ wellness. So why do slatmills get such a bad rap?
A lot of people dislike the look of a slatmill. Because of the chain that runs on top of the slatmill, many people feel like this device is forcing the dog to run when it doesn't want to. Also, getting a dog to learn how to use a slatmill is a challenge for some, and it requires your dog stepping out of their comfort zone to mentally and physically become used to a new task for them. This may result in dogs looking scared or showing signs of fear when they first get on a slatmill, and although no owner wants their dog to be scared, sometimes we need to encourage our dogs to learn new things that they may find out they really enjoy!
Sarah Lemon, a balanced dog trainer from Dankroft K9 breaks down the use of slatmills here:
"A slatmill is a free spinning treadmill used to exercise dogs aerobically and promote endurance, stamina and lean muscle tissue. It gets its name from the fact that the "tread" of it is wooden slats. Unlike traditional electrical treadmills the dog controls the speed of the slatmill making it much safer, if the dog doesn't want to run they simply stop moving and the slatmill will stop. Personally, I love slatmills, I think they're a great tool to use for dogs with a lot of energy and drive especially living in a big city such as Toronto, it can become hard to find somewhere safe to let your dog burn off that extra energy. From a quick glance many people would see the chains that are attached to the dogs collar and think it is cruel, however those are for safety, for dogs who can run full sprint on a slatmill (you and get a speedometer attached to it) it helps to keep them balanced in one spot so that they don't fly all over the place when running."
In summary, dogs who don't want to run on a slatmill can stop running without injury as the device is self powered. And some dogs really look forward to their time on a slatmill, where they can run until their heart is content. Slatmills are meant to be provided in addition to adequate outdoor stimulation and not in replace of it, and really benefit dogs with high energy levels as well as dogs working with obesity. The chain on the slatmill hooks up to any collar or leash, and we would suggest using a non-corrective collar such as the TACTIK or EXPEDITION series, or a harness to secure your dog.
Slatmills can be hugely beneficial to your dog - but where do you start? Our best suggestion would be to connect with a trainer who has access to a slatmill. Getting support in introducing your dog to the device and how to use it is extremely helpful, and can save you money over investing in your own device. If your dog ends up loving it's new exercise routine, than you can definitely look into purchasing one yourself! Slatmills are not just for dogs who are training for IGP, agility or other sports. They can really work for your average companion, and it's worth giving them a shot.