Old research shows that dogs are a lot like personal trainers: They almost never pass up an opportunity to get some exercise, and will hound you mercilessly until you join them. I know this for a fact, because I’m currently sitting here, soaking wet, after taking my 70-pound pitbull on a walk around the block in the pouring rain. I’m cold and uncomfortable, while he’s indulgently drying himself on my couch in a state of glorious post-walk ecstasy.
While you might think it’s good to live with a creature whose sole goal in life is to get you off your ass and go outside, new research shows that walking your dog can be incredibly dangerous, particularly for people who are 65 and older. Per the authors: “For older adults — especially those living alone and with decreased bone mineral density — the risks associated with walking leashed dogs merit consideration. Even one such injury could result in a potentially lethal hip fracture, lifelong complications or loss of independence.”
The researchers specifically discovered a recent increase in older people visiting the emergency room after falling over and breaking bones while walking their dogs. Worse yet, the authors believe that these walk-related injuries are even more common than their research shows, since the study only looked at patients who went to an emergency room, which excludes any injuries that were less severe than broken bones.
Once again, though, this doesn’t surprise me: My girlfriend (who previously worked as a professional dog walker) and I adopted our dog about a year ago, and even after taking discipline classes, he can be a lot to handle when he gets excited (again, he’s 70 pounds, highly rambunctious and beefy like a Rocky II-era Sylvester Stallone). We’re young and relatively fit, and he still yanks us right out of our boots at times.
Still, over the course of the last year, and especially during those early-morning obedience classes, we picked up a tons of tips to help ensure the safety of ourselves, others and our dog while walking about. So to help everyone out there who has trouble walking their dog — especially all you extra-fragile older folk — here’s my advice…
Be Realistic When Adopting (Not Buying, Please!) a Dog
If you already have a dog, you can go ahead and skip this tip. But if you’re thinking about adopting a dog, it’s incredibly important, for the sake of yourself and whichever dog you choose, that you be honest about your abilities. For instance, if you’re getting older and losing strength, maybe consider a smaller, more controllable breed, and leave the Carpathian Shepherd Dog to somebody a little more able to handle it.
Now, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. If you have the time and money to train your dog — we were gifted a free six-week training program by Angel City Pit Bulls when we adopted our little buddy, but we could definitely benefit from many, many more sessions — that certainly opens up your options. All in all, though, be realistic and don’t be afraid to ask the people at the shelter about how well the dog you’re looking at walks. They (or some volunteers) probably walk that dog every single day, so they can tell you straight up what to expect.
Use the Right Gear
First things first, if your dog pulls on their leash a lot, I highly recommend using a Gentle Leader head collar. These collars fit over your dog’s snout and redirect their head toward you when they try to pull forward, which prevents excessive pulling and gives you their attention — it’s truly a game-changer.
Next, you want to get yourself a fanny pack, so you can easily carry treats and poop bags while walking. The poop bags speak for themselves, but treats are essential when walking a dog: Whenever your dog starts pulling — say, they spot a squirrel — grab a treat and place it right in front of their nose. This will (hopefully) turn their attention away from whatever’s causing them to freak out and toward you and that delicious treat. Dogs’ moods fluctuate pretty quickly, so even getting their attention for a moment can help calm down the whole situation.
Hold the Leash Correctly
A lot of people get yanked around by their dogs, and oftentimes, it’s because they’re holding the leash incorrectly. When we were taking our doggie discipline classes, the instructor explained that you’re supposed put your dominant hand through the loop on the end of the leash, then grab the middle of the leash with your other hand — that way, you have the stability of using both hands, and when you need a treat, you can use your dominant hand, which still remains through the loop, to grab it while you hold the leash firmly with your other hand.
Watch Your Dog Closely
Keeping an eye on your dog’s body language is a simple way to avoid conflict while on a walk. Typically, dogs raise both their tails and ears upward when they’re on high alert, which could mean you might benefit from turning around and going the other way, or giving your dog a treat to distract them from whatever they’re fired up about. Meanwhile, if your dog’s tail is relaxed, swinging from side to side, they’re more than likely pretty chilled out and good to keep walking. Basically, dogs are a lot like humans: If they look freaked out, they probably are freaked out, so keep a close eye on them to avoid being unsuspectingly dragged into the street.
Avoid Other Dogs, Squirrels, Cats, Crows, Etc.
Now, I know some dogs are totally cool with other animals, even if that means another dog is barking directly into their face, but most dogs (including mine) go absolutely crazy when they see something skitter off. Avoiding other people who are walking dogs can be simple — their dog probably freaks out, too, so it’s just a matter of acknowledging that one person needs to cross the street before you run into each other. It’s also important, though, to know the neighborhood you’re walking in well — that way, you don’t accidentally walk your own easily excitable dog right by the house that always has seven crazy-loud dogs hanging out in the front yard.
Avoiding squirrels, cats and birds can be a little more difficult, and chances are, you’re bound to run into them every once in a while. But again, if you pay attention to your surroundings while walking, you can quickly figure out where the local animals tend to hang. And if worse comes to worst, remember: Treats are a godsend.
And that’s it for now: The freezing wet schnoz in my crotch is telling me it’s walkies time again.