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Dog walking injuries – why you need to teach your dog to walk to heel

 Is dog walking more dangerous than we think asks David Tomlinson?

dogs on leads

To avoid finger injuries, dogs need to be trained to walk at heel

I was bemused to read an article in The Washington Post about injuries sustained by dog walkers, as (remarkably, it would seem) I’ve managed over 50 years of walking my spaniels without any dog walking injuries.

Common dog walking injuries

According to the article, “fractured fingers, shoulder sprains and head injuries are common reasons people visit the emergency room [that’s the US equivalent of A&E].” The article went on to say, “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.”

Over nearly two decades, 422,000 US adults were treated for injuries suffered while walking leashed dogs. OK, I know it’s an American study, but I suspect that the same thing is happening over here. The key to the injuries is in the words “walking leashed dogs”, as this might explain why I remain injury-free after all these years. When I walk my dogs, they are usually off their leads, though at this time of the year some on-lead walking is required if we are on open access land. Here the law explicitly requires dogs to be on short leads from 1 March to 31 July. (Read teaching your dogs manners.)

Apparently, most of the fractured fingers are caused by the dog suddenly pulling on the lead, and this is also the cause of the shoulder injuries. The fact that “women and people aged 40 to 64 made up most of the patients” might be significant, but I can’t think why. The head injuries come from the dog pulling its walker off his or her feet, not something that the average cockerpoo can manage, but not too difficult for a rottweiler or even a labrador.

I was amused by the thought of “risk reduction strategies”. I can see one simple strategy: teach the dog to walk to heel when on the lead. I don’t know whether the Americans are as keen on walking dogs in harnesses as the British are, but if there’s one thing that’s going to encourage a dog to pull, then it’s putting it in a harness. (Read more on teaching your dog to walk to heel.)