Thursday, July 18, 2024

Mobile dog gym brings exercise to the dogs

by SUMMER ZALESKY Daily Inter Lake
| April 21, 2024 12:00 AM

While the slat mill is a 16th-century invention, it has made a modern breakthrough in K9 circles. The machine, which looks like a treadmill, was originally used to create manual power for chores like churning butter or grinding mill and is now used to rehabilitate, train, and exercise dogs.

Helsi Dog Mobile Gym, Northwest Montana’s only mobile dog gym, comes equipped with two of these high-tech slat mills, and the opportunity to train dogs in a safe, controlled environment. The business uses a van equipped with treadmills to come directly to clients and their dogs. 

Matt and Angela DeFries, owners of Helsi, said the journey began years ago after realizing their love for helping people and their furry friends. 

“I was training a huge English mastiff for one of my friends and he was very aggressive. The family didn’t let anyone around him except for me and I was successfully rehabilitating him,” explained Matt. “I have a way of being really calm and breathing with the dog and as soon as the dog's body softens up, you know that the dog has surrendered to you.” 

Mobile dog gyms have been slowly increasing in popularity, especially in regions where it is excessively hot and humid or where temperatures drop below zero. They can be particularly important for working and sporting dogs that must maintain their physical fitness to perform at a high level. 

“It’s basically a dog treadmill,” Angela explained. “It’s called a slat mill because it has individual slats which absorb impact so it’s very safe and completely powered by the dog.”

“The slat mill has three separate suspension systems,” Matt added. “Then we have these rollers that are also impact absorbent and it has a spring system like a car has. It's actually much safer than playing fetch, which is how dogs often get injured.”

The slat mill also rehabilitates dogs with injuries or mobility issues, and Matt says the service can be a great supplement to whatever other treatments the dog is undergoing. Helsi partners with medical professionals like veterinarians, and those who specialize in physical therapy or acupuncture in order to achieve the personal goals set for each dog.

“Everybody in the veterinarian community has been really curious and supportive,” Matt said. 

When working with dogs Matt uses treats and toys to get them accustomed to first standing on the treadmill, then walking and eventually running. He’s patient to follow the dog's lead.

When Matt sees a dog with behavioral issues, he doesn’t see it as a challenge, but rather, as an opportunity to be creative. His philosophy is “the obstacle is the way.”

“You have to be a good listener and you have to be very fascinated with what's happening,” said Matt. “If you love communication and trying to figure out what the dog is telling you, then you will use it to create a connection and then with that connection, you get the dog to become who it was supposed to be.”

Matt received his dog trainer certification from Animal Behavior College and also frequently donates his time to train dogs at the Flathead County Animal Shelter because he says he doesn’t want to see any dog return to the shelter. 

“One of the pieces of advice I give for people who adopt dogs from shelters is to not treat them as if they need to be coddled because of their past. Dogs are really resilient,” said Matt. “It's a new day and a new dog. Let's move forward and use calm, consistent leadership. Try to wake up at the same time, put the dog to bed at the same time, feed it at the same time, and become more regimented so the dog starts to understand that there is a plan and the dog will become part of the plan.”

Apart from their regular run package, Helsi offers gold paw packages where Matt takes the dog for a potty break, runs them, waters them and allows another opportunity for a potty break. Whether it’s clients who are out on an adventure, or clients who may not have the time or physical ability, the convenience of the mobile dog gym is a huge draw. 

“It could be anything from just burning off energy to strength training, to losing weight. I can specifically set up a program that will get the results that they're looking for,” said Matt. 

Helsi Dog Mobile Gym can be contacted by phone 406-890-9204 or email To find out more, visit 

Reporter Summer Zalesky can be reached at

    Matt DeFries is the owner of Helsi Dog Mobile Gym, a mobile gym that provides exercise for dogs using treadmills. (Heidi Desch/Daily Inter Lake)
    Tango takes a nap after running on the Helsi Dog Mobile Gym treadmill. (Heidi Desch/Daily Inter Lake)
    Matt DeFries, owner of Helsi Dog Mobile Gym, encourages Echo to run on the treadmill, while Tango sits at his feet during a session in Somers. (Heidi Desch/Daily Inter Lake)
    Matt DeFries, owner of Helsi Dog Mobile Gym, uses treats to get Tango comfortable with using the treadmill. (Heidi Desch/Daily Inter Lake)