Your dog absolutely needs to exercise. There are tons of ways to get it done, but not many that can be measured.
You don’t know how intense their walk was, how much they benefited from it, or if they’ve basically plateaued and aren’t getting any benefits from their walks anymore.
To quantify their success, you need something you can measure. Dog exercise wheels help you monitor exactly how much exercise they’re getting, and at what intensity.
Especially for obese dogs that are in desperate need to lose weight, an exercise wheel can help.
This article isn’t strictly advocating for dog wheels, mind you: there are plenty of caveats that we have to discuss before you can make an informed decision.
What Are Dog Exercise Wheels?
Enormous hamster wheels, except designed for dogs. That’s the quick cut of it, but dog exercise wheels are actually a lot more than that.
They have to be built differently (obviously) to account for a larger size, extra weight, and continuous use. It’s like buying a piece of home workout equipment, only for your dog instead.
These large wheels give your dogs plenty of room, keep them on an exercise routine even on rainy days, and don’t cost nearly as much as you’d think.
How Effective Are Dog Exercise Wheels?
Many people use exercise wheels for their dogs, and then quickly give up because they feel like the results aren’t there. Those people are both right and wrong.
Exercise wheels respond similarly to how manual treadmills do. A manual treadmill uses no electric motor; it relies on your momentum and input to keep it going, which means that your workout depends on how much effort you put into it.
Exercise wheels work the same way. If your dog is strolling at a meandering pace, then it’s basically like they’re just wandering around the home. There's no intensity, they’re just confined to a single area.
Dog exercise wheels are effective, but it’s a process. You have to find ways to make it entertaining for your dog from start to finish. Here are a few things that you can do.
- Play Music: Most of us listen to music when we work out. Your dog will eventually just get lost in the rhythm of running on the wheel and enjoy themselves, but if you’re getting the wheel in the first place to help them lose weight, it may be tricky to get them started on it. Put on some upbeat music to help set the atmosphere.
- Offer Rewards: Trainers give them a treat when they learn how to sit, so why not give them rewards when they exercise on the wheel? It doesn’t have to be a tasty treat, although that will most likely motivate them the best, but you can still figure out a separate reward system. If you do use treats, only do it for a little while until this becomes routine to them so that they don’t see a weight spike as a result.
- Follow it up With a Normal Walk: Dogs love walks. The second you grab the leash, they go haywire and can’t wait to get out the door. Instead of having all of their exercise be on the wheel (at least at first), you can cut it in half and do the second bit during their walk. This gives your dogs some motivation once they know that a walk is coming after the wheel every single time. Do the intense part on the wheel, and the leisurely stuff during the walk.
Can They Be Used as an Indoor Replacement for Walking Outside?
Yes and no. Dogs need to get fresh air and interact with nature, and your backyard doesn’t exactly meet that need.
On rainy days, this is a perfectly acceptable temporary replacement for outdoor walks, but you should not use this as a crutch.
Walks are still necessary, and since you have to monitor your dog on the wheel anyway, it’s not like exercise wheels are saving you time in terms of dog care.
How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Dog Exercise Wheel?
Show them how it works, and encourage them to get on. This sounds simple, but that’s the best way to start. Some dogs absolutely love exercise wheels, they hop right on, and they never look back. It’s fun for them.
But then, some dogs don’t exactly put two and two together. Because dogs love being active, they’ll look for any activity to tire themselves out. These are a few ways that you can show them just how much fun they’ll have on an exercise wheel.
- Start With a Toy: Which toy is their favorite? Throw it into the mix. No, literally throw it into the wheel and see what they do. They might chase it, hop on, and see that it moves. They’ll either run or scurry off, but the mystery has been revealed; they know what the wheel does now.
- Make it Visible: If it’s not within a reachable area for your dog, then they’re not going to even think to access it. Put it near their bed, or in the living room on the side that they usually tend to be found. Make it visible, and eventually any fear of the unknown will be gone. It just becomes another background item, and once they’re familiar with it, they’re more likely to trust it.
- Positive Reinforcement: Even if it’s not their favorite thing, put them on the wheel and praise them no matter how long they actually run for. They’ll quickly realize that it makes you happy when they run on the wheel. Be sure that you don’t stop praising them when this happens, otherwise they may lose motivation. You can stop with the constant positive reinforcement when they begin to use the wheel without you having to coax them into it.
Can You Train Your Other Pets to Use it?
You could train a cat to use it, but since cats are generally much smaller than most dog breeds, they may have a difficult time building up the necessary momentum.
You can train your other pets to use it (I’ve seen cats flush the toilet before, and not just in a Ben Stiller movie), but they may not receive the same benefits that your dog does.
Can I Leave My Dog on a Dog Exercise Wheel by Themself?
Apart from the fact that your dog may just stop doing it and lose all motivation, you could run a serious injury risk.
Dog exercise wheels aren’t 100% safe (but then again, what truly is?), so you have to monitor your dog during the entire exercise.
And I don’t mean standing idly by while scrolling on your phone. You need to keep your eyes on your dog no matter what. One misstep that you don’t catch is all it takes to fracture or injure their leg, and then the entire exercise regimen that you’ve been working on is all for naught.
Dog Exercise Wheels vs. Dog Treadmills
Which one should you get? Which one is better for your dog?
Some of the information is subjective, but we have some hard-hitting facts that you have to take into account before making a final decision.
- Long-Term Use: Dog wheels don’t last as long as motor-driven treadmills do. You might be surprised to learn that, but motor-driven dog treadmills aren’t suspended like dog wheels are. While dog wheel manufacturers take this into account and make safe wheels, the wear and tear really starts to beat down on your dog wheel after not too long. You’re getting more fun out of it, but less total time to use it. If you’re handy, you could always repair any problematic components on a dog wheel when needed.
- Large Breed Use: This is one point for the treadmills. Even if your dog can fit into an oversized dog wheel, most large breed dogs are not built for it. They’ll get ahead of themselves, trip, and risk more injuries than smaller breeds. While treadmills may not be anywhere near as exciting, they’re definitely safer for your dog to use if they’re a larger breed.
- Upfront Cost: Dog treadmills are almost always cheaper than buying a dog exercise wheel. Mechanically, an exercise wheel has to be suspended so that it has the necessary clearance on the bottom. All the force of your dog’s feet constantly thumping against the wheel material can’t cause the axle to go off-kilter, either, so you end up running into rapid deterioration and higher upfront costs associated with high-quality parts to meet the physical demand that an exercise wheel needs.
- Square Footage Required: Have you seen a dog exercise wheel? Like, really seen one? They’re massive, and if you’re in an apartment or a small one-bedroom house, it’s going to need its own dedicated space just like your couch does. You have to be prepared for how much space it takes up, but on the flip side, dog treadmills aren’t exactly compact, either. These items both take up a lot of space, and because they have moving parts—some manual, some motor-driven—they need to be away from expensive electronics and breakable objects, requiring more buffer space between them and your belongings. In short: they’re flippin’ big and not easy to factor into your setup.
- Exercise Quality: Wheels tend to give better exercise than treadmills. Your dog is in a mostly static stance on a treadmill with limited movement, despite a moving floor beneath their feet. Unless you crank this thing up, they’re not going to stretch and move enough to get a core workout. While we discuss later on that exercise wheels can be associated with joint damage due to the angles and resistance, an exercise wheel gives your dog the right amount of space and motivation to keep moving, stretching out better and in more dynamic ways. Just like with treadmills, an incline is better for progress than staying flat.
- Fun: Your dog should be having fun while they exercise. You can look up just about any video of a dog on an exercise wheel (like this one) and see dogs having the time of their life once they get started on it. While dog wheels may be less fun while indoors, your dog can basically entertain themselves after a while as long as you’re there to supervise them. It’s okay to “amp up” your dog and keep them motivated whilst on the wheel as well. Treadmills just don’t have the same fun factor.
What Type of Breed Are Dog Exercise Wheels Suited for?
Small to medium dog breeds, and depending on the specific breed, their height, and their weight, dog exercise wheels may not be the best option for the long haul.
We talked about treadmills having a longer lifespan as well, and that’s because the wear and tear on a dog exercise wheel is far more damaging than what happens to dog treadmills.
Some breeds of dog that can use exercise wheels for the long term include, but are not limited to:
- French Bulldog
- Welsh Corgi
- Scottish Terrier
- Shiba Inu
- Cocker Spaniel
- Basset Hound
- Shih Tzu
You’ll notice that there are some small and medium breeds on that list. Some medium breeds have an expected maximum height and weight that still fall in line with using an exercise wheel.
Negative Impacts a Dog Exercise Wheel Can Have
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows; there are downsides to using an exercise wheel, and we’re not just talking about the floor space that it takes up in your apartment.
- Joint Stress: Running as fast as possible on a flat surface means there’s no resistance in your way. When you have this constantly shifting inkline in front of you while you progress on the wheel, it can apply pressure to the joints. Your dog should be taking joint supplements no matter what, but especially if they’re going to use a dog exercise wheel.
- Higher Risk of Injury: A dog on a treadmill has plenty of clearance to get off. On the road, your dog doesn’t have a rapidly moving floor beneath them. For the intensity and health benefits that dog exercise wheels offer, they also mean that it’s easier for your dog to get injured. One misstep or one moment of unsupervised use, and your dog could get seriously hurt. If you’re cautious, you can reap the rewards without any of the downsides.
- Cramped: Because these aren’t made for large breeds, you puppy might outgrow this in the not-so-distant future. That means either upgrading to a treadmill, or just committing to jog with your dog or go on walks more often. Their health is important, but you also need to think about what works well for you in the long term as well.
There are certainly some things you need to think about here. Joint stress is a big deal, and while the injury risk is greater, so are the positive health benefits. It’s a toss-up; it’s down to your call.
Are Dog Exercise Wheels Safe?
Everything that we think is safe still comes with some risks. We would absolutely say that dog wheels are safe to use, as there is no hard-hitting evidence that they’re particularly bad for dogs.
They run risks similar to treadmills, but a well-designed, solid exercise wheel boasts a lot of benefits, and has your dog’s safety in mind.
Where Can I Buy Dog Exercise Wheels?
If you want to invest in one for your dog, but you don’t have the time to figure out how to DIY it, that’s okay—there are a few top-notch solutions, but the best of the best comes from GoPet.
GoPet made this exercise wheel for small breed dogs, and while it’s definitely expensive, it’s not as bad as it could be. It caps out at a certain height and weight, so only very specific breeds will be able to use this/
This overly expensive exercise wheel for large breed dogs costs more than your monthly student loan payments, but GoPet is designed to last for longer than most exercise wheels, so it should work out just fine. This works for medium breeds as well.
Then… you have the mammoth price tag with this exercise wheel for extra large dogs. Pretty sure you can put down first and last on an apartment with this amount of money, but nonetheless, the option is available for a specific audience.
The Ultimate Dog Exercise
No more rainy day excuses. Your dog’s health is on the front burner now, taking priority with their new exercise wheel.
Walk, run, get that cardio in; they can do it all on an exercise wheel.
While it’s still very important for your dog to get fresh air, indoor exercise wheel training is an excellent way to ensure their fitness stays consistent. It accounts for days where walks aren’t an option.
You can DIY your own dog exercise wheel if you’re feeling up to the challenge, or you can purchase a pre-made one if you want the novelty of owning one without spending hours on this project.