How to properly walk your dog to avoid injury
Ahh, Sunday morning, the perfect time for a relaxing stroll with your dog. You calmly clip the leash to the collar, open the front door, step outside…and suddenly, you feel like you’re at a tractor pull, and your dog is the tractor.
Surgeons warn that dog walkers could be putting themselves at risk of serious hand injuries by holding dog leads incorrectly. Severe hand injuries can be caused by the sudden movement of a dog after an owner wraps the leash around their wrist or fingers. There is also a chance that the dog could pull you over when out for a walk.
In a University of Pennsylvania study, 78% of the related fractures occurred in women. From 2004 to 2017, fracture injuries linked to walking a leashed dog rose 163%, from 1,671 to 4,396 cases. About half of the fracture injuries occurred in the upper body, including the wrist, upper arm, finger and shoulder.
These six strategies will help keep you safe while walking your dog:
1. Don't wrap the leash.
It may seem safer to loop the leash handle around your fingers or wrist than to just hold it in your palm, but the opposite is actually true. If the dog takes off quickly, you don't have time to unwrap the leash. By the time you realize there's traction on your fingers or wrist, you may already be falling down or have suffered a fracture. Over time, you could develop wrist issues similar to carpal tunnel syndrome.
And these are not simple bone breaks. They tend to cause severe injuries when the leash viciously twists your wrist or fingers. The bones can separate, and there may even be cartilage, ligament and tendon damage. Often surgery is required and recovery can take anywhere from several months to a year. Some people never completely recover.
So hold the leash in the palm of your hand — like a golf club or baseball bat — and have more control over the dog. This way you can tighten (or loosen) your grip immediately if you feel the dog start to pull away.
2. Don't put your fingers under the collar.
You can also suffer severe twisting fractures if your fingers are under the collar and the dog jumps or pulls away. It's similar to when a football player gets a finger caught in another player's facemask, and the facemask goes one way, the finger another. Try pinching the collar around the edges. Or grasping the attachment ring instead of the collar itself while fastening the leash. It may take a few attempts or some practice, but it's much safer.
Also, don’t grab for the collar to separate your dog from another dog. Not only are you risking fractures, but you can get bitten when dogs are in an aggressive mode. Especially with larger, more muscular dogs that can generate more force and have stronger jaws. But even small dogs, if they make sudden movements that catch you off guard, can create enough torque to break your fingers.
3. Keep your dog on a short leash.
The longer the leash, the more leash there is for the dog to pull. When the dog starts running, by the time it hits the end of the rope, there's a lot of energy built up that will transfer to the person holding it. As a result, you could fall or get dragged, suffering severe bruises or fractures. The hard yank of the leash can cause not only hand and wrist fractures, but tendon or ligament damage — or even dislocations — to your elbow or shoulder. It's also easier to trip on or get tangled up in a longer leash. So keep a shorter leash when you're walking, so you have more control over the dog's movements.
4. Walk — don't roll.
Regardless of your skill or comfort level, it's never a good idea to walk your dog while riding a bike, scooter, skateboard or Segway, or while rollerblading or rollerskating. When you're on wheels, you're already off-balance and less stable than if you're walking. If a dog suddenly starts running, it's going to take you down and you're likely to suffer an injury.
5. Wear appropriate shoes.
Just as you wouldn't wear platform wedges on a hike, you shouldn't wear them to walk your dog. You have to have the right footwear. When it's icy or snowy, it's important to wear boots with good traction. But even when it's warm and dry, you need shoes that offer stability and won't trip you up if the dog pulls on the leash or suddenly changes directions. It also helps to be aware of the terrain and weather conditions before you start your walk.
6. Most important, pay attention.
Many injuries from dog walking could have been prevented if a person was simply paying attention. Pay attention to your pet and surroundings. Don't talk on your phone, text or engage in social media. Don't wear headphones or a bluetooth headset. Scan the surrounding area for things that might attract or frighten your dog, such as other animals or cars. Watch where you're walking so you can try to avoid obstacles or unstable terrain. If you're not distracted, you'll be able to react faster to any situation; you won't be caught completely off guard.
When to see a doctor
If you suffer an injury while walking or handling your dog, don't ignore it. When you get home, apply ice to the injury for 10 minutes. One hour after icing, seek medical attention if any of the following are true:
You have significant pain and swelling.
It hurts when you press on the injured area.
It hurts when you move your wrist, hand or finger, or you don't have full range of motion.
Even if your symptoms improve, see a doctor if they are not completely gone within 1 to 2 weeks.
It’s a common misconception that if you can still move your hand, wrist or finger, it's not broken. Use your judgement, but don't assume that just because the injury was caused by a dog, it can't be serious.
For more information or to request an appointment, please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at www.mcdaidorthohand.com/contact