Dog ownership is generally very good for our health. The reasons range from encouraging us to exercise more to providing non-judgmental support during times of stress. But Centers for Disease Control statistics show that that dogs do occasionally contribute to injuries that occur in the home or during walks. So it is worth taking a moment to think about simple things we can do to make these small risks even smaller. Here are my suggestions for avoiding four dog-related injuries.
1. Injury cause: Tripping on a pet-related item
Every year, about 7,000 people sustain a serious injury from tripping over a pet-related item like a toy or bowl. Okay, so this is not technically caused by the dog, but it is the kind of accident that won’t happen to one of those unfortunate people who don’t have a pet.
One way to avoid it: Put away the toys
Like most people, I tend to buy toys for my dogs more often than I throw toys away. In fact, I recently went around the apartment and found enough to build a small mountain of tatty treasures that can easily end up underfoot.
The obvious solution is to have a place to put away the dog’s toys. There are two approaches to keeping a dog-toy bin: One is to put it out of the dog’s reach, like over the refrigerator, and then you bring new toys out over time, making it like they are new again (at least that is how my dogs act).
The other is to leave it within the dog’s reach and let the dog grab what they like, and then you throw them back in when they get in the way. Do you know the old trick about turning your coat hanger around when you wash and rehang clothes, to see which things are not getting used so you can get rid of them? If you use two bins, you can use the same trick to see which toys never get “checked out” by the dog and can remove those to thin the collection.
2. Injury cause: Being pulled
Approximately 16,000 people are injured each year by a pulling dog. Dog walking is a time of increased injury risk for a number of reasons, but falls caused by leash pulling are the main culprit.
One way to avoid it: Do not wind the leash around your wrist
Now, obviously the best solution is to have your dog well-socialized and trained not to pull on the leash. This may require a patient approach, such as stopping every time your dog pulls to train her that the walk will not proceed until she behaves. Even if your dog has been a “puller” for years, maybe this is a good time to have another go at correcting this bad habit before the season of icy sidewalks arrives.
And while some dogs are more cooperative than others, any dog can have a lapse when confronted with a particularly tempting squirrel or when startled by a loud noise. Avoid injury by holding your dog’s leash in your hand rather than wrapping the loop around your wrist or hand.
Of course, if you hold the leash in your fingers you run the risk of losing your dog should she suddenly jerk the leash, so not everyone is willing to do it. But consider the relative risk to you and the dog. If you suddenly fell over, what are the odds that you would sustain an injury serious enough to require hospital treatment? What are the odds that your dog would bolt and not come back when called? Assess your particular situation and decide the best way to reduce this risk.
3. Injury cause: Falls
About 24,000 people a year are injured by tripping or falling over their dogs. Now, people move about, dogs move about, so this sort of thing is bound to happen. But are there certain situations where you often find yourself doing the Oops Puppy Two Step just to stay on your feet?
One of your high-risk moments may be when you are coming home. You open the door with packages in your arms, keys in your hands, and to furry hand grenades of pent-up energy. Avon, in particular, used to greet people with the Border Collie double-forepaw groin punch. It’s risky enough if you see it coming, and potentially a very nasty surprise for guests of the male persuasion.
One way to avoid it: Have a low-key homecoming
I generally do not pay attention to my dogs until I have come in, closed the door, and put my bag away. They have come to recognize this routine and wait until I am ready to greet them. I correct jumping, which with Avon takes great persistence, and it drives me crazy when guests encourage this behavior.
My dogs also love delivery people, but the feeling is not always mutual. The National Association of Letter Carriers recommends that you put the dog in another room before answering the door to accept mail. I don’t really have that option because I live in a small, open-plan apartment, but my dogs know the commands “back” and “sit,” and using these I taught them a line that they have to wait behind when I open the door. Neither of them are doggie geniuses, but they got the idea after only a week or so.
4. Injury cause: Dog bites
Dog bites top the list with approximately 300,000 cases requiring hospitalization each year. Now, these bites occur in all sorts of contexts inside and outside the home, with familiar dogs and stray dogs. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of a serious bite.
Early in the time that I had Avon, I knew I needed to keep firm control over him as he was one of those many “dogs in need of space” during his early years (although he mellowed out over time). No dog owner should feel reluctant about using precautions, like keeping her dog on leash, using signals like the yellow ribbon, or putting on a muzzle if necessary.
One way to avoid it: Have a doggie-safe zone
I did some babysitting recently for a neighbor, and it was the first time my dogs had spent much time around a young child. I kept an eye on them and had a crate set up where the dogs could go if they had had enough of playtime. The dogs understood this quite naturally; the child, however, required some training to understand that the doggie box was off-limits to humans. But safety around dogs is an important thing for any child to learn!
Do you have any tips on how to reduce the risk of ending up a dog-injury statistic? Share them in the comments!
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