The expression many show after seeing a dog running on a treadmill for the first time is often one of disbelief, followed by a giggle and one of the two following statements “My dog would never do that, or “What will they think of next”.

The irony exists in the fact that the origin of the treadmill was never intended for people. In fact, animal treadmills were being used long before a human ever stepped foot on one. The first treadmills were agricultural machines and came in various sizes to accommodate animals like dogs, sheep, and horses to automate chores.

Nicholas Potter, of Troy PA is noted as the father of the first dog treadmill. But rather than marketing it as an exercise device for dog exercise it was marketed as a practical devise for dogs to assist with churning butter, grinding stones, fanning mills, corn shellers and later cream separators and aptly named the “Enterprise Dog Power”. The first patent issued in 1871 and the final patent in 1881. The final design is typical of most surviving “Enterprise” treadmills today.

history-01The first dog treadmill marketed as a dog exercise device was patented by John R. Richards, of Oak Park IL in 1939. The design similar to Nicholas Potter included a harness device and was not motorized.

history-02 The first human treadmill was not invented until 1952, where Dr. Robert A. Bruce got the idea to actually put the treadmill belt to use for humans to walk on. He used it as a stress test to monitor and diagnose various heart conditions. By the 1960s the treadmill was commercialized as an exercise device for humans, at which time the running joke surfaced on the Jetsons featuring George Jetson and his Astro running on an automatic dog walker.

Since the 1960s there have been continual improvements in treadmill equipment for both humans and dogs. For dogs, the treadmill is no longer a way to mobilize farm operations, but an effective exercise alternative for challenges like weather, hectic schedules, physical limitations, busy streets and crowded dog parks.