By Kim Gilliam
Dogs need to be walked. For mental stimulation, to expend some of their boundless energy and to avail themselves of the “potty.” And walks can be enjoyable and fun, with health and social benefits to boot, for their owners.
Unfortunately, dog walking sends tens of thousands of owners to the emergency room each year. More than 30,000 injuries were reported in 2020 alone.
In a dog-friendly town like Alexandria, we’ve all heard the stories or seen it happen. An over-excited pup pulls hard on their leash to chase a squirrel or greet another dog and their human gets tripped up and hits the ground. Ouch!
New research shines a light on the increasing frequency of this occurrence and the most common resulting injuries.
In a study released last month, Johns Hopkins University researchers found that between 2001 and 2020, more than 422,000 U.S. adults were treated in ERs for injuries suffered while walking leashed dogs. The annual incidence
more than quadrupled during this period where 75% of those affected were women. Almost half were people between the ages of 40 to 64.
The study concluded that “dog walking is associated with a considerable and rising injury burden and dog owners should be informed of this injury potential and advised on risk-reduction strategies.”
Per the study, finger fractures, traumatic brain injuries and shoulder sprains and strains were the three most-diagnosed injuries caused by walking dogs from 2001 to 2020. These injuries happen when dog walkers have the leash wrapped around their fingers or wrist. If the dog lunges, injuries to tendons and bones in the hands, arms or hips can result. Those older than 65 were found to be about 60% more likely to receive a brain injury.
So, what can you do? Here are seven ways to help lessen your risk of injury on leashed walks.
Train your dog
If they are listening to you despite the distractions, then you have eliminated leash pulling at the source.
Put your phone away and watch for wildlife or other triggers that might cause your dog to pull.
Don’t wrap the leash around your hand. Don’t intertwine your fingers in the leash or under the collar where they can get easily twisted if your dog is excited.
Keep it simple
Avoid retractable and bungee leashes at all costs. Only use flat cotton, BioThane or leather leashes. Use a shorter one if you need more control.
Slippers, sandals and high heels are a definite no-no for dog walks. Wear comfortable shoes that minimize your potential for tripping, slipping or falling.
Stick to well-lit areas with sturdy surfaces. Steer clear of potential trip hazards. Consider investing in a headlamp to aid in visibility on your walk.
Make sure your abilities match the size and temperament of your dog. If you feel ill-equipped to safely walk your dog, consider hiring a dog walker to keep yourself and your furry friend safe.
The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.