Cautionary tales, and how to avoid dog-related injuries

True story: My husband and I are walking our two dogs on leash. Another couple is walking towards us with an unleashed dog. We step off the trail, heading slightly uphill. I place my dog in a sit and have treats to keep her occupied as the loose dog walks by. I turn to my husband to see if he has treats too and at that moment the loose dog runs toward us. I don't see it because I have taken my eyes off my dog so I also don't see her sudden movement forward which pulls me downhill and I fall. When I stand up, I notice that my left pinky finger is not pointing the right direction. I snap it back in place and continue my walk. I tell myself I probably just dislocated it, not broke it. Months later, I finally have it checked and it was indeed broken. I am left with an odd looking finger and unable to completely close my fist.

Another true story: Just a few weeks after this incident, I pick up Bark magazine and find an article titled "The Dog-Related Injury: Love 'em we do, but sometimes, they break the hands that feed them". And I learn that "In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control released an analysis of five years of emergency room injury data. In their report, some 86,000 fall injuries were associated with pets, mostly dogs, annually. (The injuries affected all age groups, but older patients were more likely to break a bone.)" (Bark, March 2018, Carol Mithers.)

How can we keep ourselves safe while walking our canine friends? Here are a few tips from both dog trainers and orthopedic surgeons:

Train your dog. Teaching a dog to walk politely on leash and not pull takes some time but pays off with more enjoyable and safer walks.

Training goes a long way but the reality is, life happens. Even the best trained dog may startle and pull when an unexpected hare or squirrel runs across its path. With this in mind, you may want to consider the size of your dog. Perhaps a medium or smaller size dog will be easier for you to control in these situations.

How do you hold the leash? If it's wrapped around your hand, you're asking for trouble! Hold the leash in the palm of your hand, like you would a golf club or baseball bat. This way the leash can't injure your wrists or fingers if the dog pulls.

Avoid long leashes. If your dog bolts, a long leash will pick up more speed and power, possibly causing greater injury.

Don't wrap your fingers in your dog's collar. If the dog pulls you may wind up with twisting fractures.

Most importantly, pay attention. By paying attention we may just see that squirrel before the dog does!

Enjoy your walks and keep them safe.

Laura Atwood is the public relations coordinator for the Anchorage Animal Care and Control.

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