Walk the Dog, But Don’t Fall

 

Almost half of the households in the US contain a dog according to the American Housing Survey.  This lifestyle choice is an easy sell, which is fortunate, because it’s a delightfully healthy one.

 

Dogs provide us with so many good reasons to bring them inside. They can let us know when UPS has arrived and will gladly dispose of any stray meat tidbits that might avail. Most household cats approve of canine pals, too, because walking on a sleeping dog is great amusement.

 

Dogs are particularly beneficial for older people and those who live alone. They encourage exercise and provide company. Walking them encourages more social interaction. They even help people in pain feel better.  One study showed that looking into a dog’s eyes for five minutes raised oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, which helped lower pain.

 

Now that we’ve praised the dog, there is one problem we need to beware of. Dogs are a falling hazard. I don’t mean the pooch that sleeps in the middle of the kitchen. I’m talking the one on the other end of the leash.

 

Serious falls are on the rise among senior citizens and dog pets are responsible for more than 87,000 falls a year.  About a third of falls caused by tripping on the dog (or cat) result in injuries that run from bruises to broken bones.

 

A researcher at the Centers for Disease Control also believes that the number of falls among seniors has increased because we live longer and stay more active. Thus,  more of us put ourselves in conditions that invite falling.

 

Like walking the dog.

 

Walking is a great reason to own a dog. Yet as I wander around the neighborhood with my gal, Sally, it’s easy to see why falls happen. The dogs are out in front, at the end of the leash. Some are pulling their people along. The polite ones are more gentle, but busily sniffing and wandering back and forth in the path of their human.

 

It goes against intuition, but your dog will be quite happy to learn to walk in proper heel position—and should.  That’s for the dog’s benefit and yours.

 

Training with treats is the easiest way to reward a dog for doing the right thing. Practice it long enough and your dog will enjoy being a good girl or good boy on walks. I can attest to that.

 

Sally is a young Carolina dog. This is a breed that usually lives in the wild and hunts for survival. Sally is FAST and agile. She is the rare dog that can chase down a healthy squirrel and catch it before it gets to a tree. Twice while walking her on a leash, Sally leaped into the air and brought down a duck flying overhead.

 

When we first got Sally, the only thing she wanted to do outdoors was hunt. That was approximately 99% of the time, with short breaks for bathroom chores. Walks on a leash were a constant sniffing festival, with Sally veering left and right.

 

Then came training. Her veering and darting on the leash was under fairly good control within a week. Within two weeks it was great.

 

Your dog does not need to be a genius to accomplish this, nor do you. But if you have not trained a dog to heel, get a trainer to help you. Let them know you want your dog to heel, staying by your side. Simply walking on a loose leash anywhere in front of you is not good enough to prevent falls.

 

Then make it a rule. If you are on a walk with your dog, heeling is required every time. Your dog will be fine with it once it’s clear you’ve set the rules.

 

When Sally and I are out and about these days, she enjoys her walks as fully as only a happy dog knows how. She’s not allowed to wander in front of me. She only gets to sniff when on break—that’s typically when I give her a “go potty” command or we reach a designated area where she knows she gets more freedom.

 

If you are still hesitant to spoil your dog’s fun, think about this. Your dog will be very sad to miss you for a week or two while you are in the hospital with your leg in a cast.