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5 Tips for Walking Your Dog Safely

senior walking his dog
More seniors are walking their dogs as a way to improve health. But it can also be a quick way to injury. adamkaz/Getty Images

When the weather is warmer, my chocolate lab, Loretta, and I, will take the new pup, Charlotte, for her first hike. I'm not sure how this will play out. Charlotte is an untrained cannonball with one speed — fast — and I'm not as young as I used to be.

There was a time when I routinely took my other dogs (all of whom have since passed) on such walks. The hikes were exhilarating and great bonding experiences. But that was when I was much younger, more coordinated, and my knees didn't scream every time I stepped on a rock.

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As my vet likes to tell me, walking the dog is good for everyone. Dogs love it because it keeps them healthy and active. They sometimes get to meet other dogs, which can be hoot if everyone gets along. Plus walking is also good for my physical and mental health. It helps me connect with nature, which studies have shown, can help waning attention spans. These walks with the pups can also reduce loneliness and also lead to a better outlook on life.

Now, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have thrown a monkey wrench of sorts into that idea. Walking a leashed dog, they say, can impart significant and rising injury risk in older adults. The researchers looked at 13 years of emergency room data compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission between 2004 and 2017. They found bone fractures associated with walking dogs on leashes more than doubled for Americans 65 and older. In 2004, 1,671 people were treated for dog-walking related injuries. That number skyrocketed to 4,396 in 2017. Nearly 80 percent of those who suffered injuries were women.

Most of the injured broke their wrists, hurt their upper arms and shattered fragile hips. Researchers are at a loss to explain the increase, but Jaimo Ahn, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at University of Pennsylvania, suggests that today's seniors are more active than previous generations. Moreover, health care providers are suggesting seniors walk their dogs more often as a way to improve health.

The study published in the March issue of JAMA Surgery, also found that those older than 65 who had fractured their hips while walking the dog had a 20 to 30 percent chance of dying within 12 months. That number increased if that person had had a mild heart attack or diagnosed with "mild cancer."

If you love your dog and you love to walk, but are getting a little long in the tooth, don't be discouraged. There are ways you can walk your dog safely. Here are five of them.

senior walking dog
Retractable leashes can be super dangerous to anybody at any age. Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

A while back, we wrote about retractable leashes and how they can damage your body and hurt your dog. Retractable leashes allow a dog to walk a good 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) ahead of you. But many times, the cords break or the whole contraption goes haywire. As a result, a person can suffer broken bones, shattered teeth, eye injuries and all sorts of lacerations. The leashes also pose a serious injury problem for dogs. They can bolt into a busy street long before you can react. Dogs can also hurt their necks if they run to the limit of the cord. There are many types of leashes that are safe to use, but not retractable.

Here's another tip that will keep you safe if you're thinking about getting a dog: Find the right one. If you're a senior citizen, it might not be the best idea to own a dog that always wants to run. Perhaps a less energetic dog is the way to go. Just an idea.

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woman dog at dog park
Walk your dog at the dog park. They're fenced in and keep out other wild critters. Alex Potemkin/Getty Images

Years ago, my English setter mix, McBeal, and I were on a lovely walk when she caught sight of a squirrel. Now, McBeal was never a friend of wildlife (she hated hot air balloons, too). She bolted up a wooded hill and out of my sight. I didn't have a good grip on the leash, which in retrospect was a good thing. She pulled so hard I might have dislocated my shoulder. Regardless, I found her off the trail within a couple of minutes. Two hours later, lost, and bewildered (at least I was), we found the trailhead and motored back home. Moral of the story: Don't walk your dog where wildlife abounds.

Consider a dog park; they're good places to walk your dog. Many are fenced in, which keeps unwanted critters out.

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walking dog in snowstorm
Make sure you and your dog are prepared for the weather before your walk. Yiming Chen/Getty Images

Your dog needs to be walked during all sorts of weather. The key to having a safe walk is to always check what the weather will be like. Dogs and humans, for example, do not do well walking in unbearably hot or humid weather. People and dogs can overheat rather quickly when the temperature rises.

In those situations, walk slowly and for a short time. Never walk in thunderstorms. If it is too cold out, make sure you and your furry buddy are bundled up with the right winter gear. Also, be careful on ice. Dogs who love to pull on a leash can slip easily, taking you down with them. You too can easily slip (I've done this several times) without your dog's help. Also, avoid asphalt on hot days. The road can burn your dog's paws.

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woman walking dog on beach
Keep your dog safe from sharp objects, especially while you're walking on places like the beach. Image Source/Getty Images

Shattered glass; broken rocks; boards with nails in them. Walking your dog can be like walking through a field of landmines. Be cognizant of where you are walking. Once my Great Dane and I came across a shattered crackpipe when we were sauntering around a city neighborhood. She could have easily stepped on it and cut her rather large paw. If you're overly concerned about injuries to your dog's paws, you can buy them specially made shoes.

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beagle in harness
Choosing the right collar or harness for your dog can help keep both you and him safe. Artur Debat/Getty Images

Make sure your dog is wearing the appropriate harness or collar for his or her weight. When using a collar, make sure it fits properly. It needs to be snug, but not too snug. You don't want your pet slipping out of it.

Some people choose to harness their dogs. It's not a bad idea, and harnesses are comfortable to wear. Front-clip harnesses are better than those that clip in the back. A back-clip harness offers little control. Harnesses are better than collars if your dog has a respiratory problem. There's no pressure around the tracheal area with a harness.

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And never walk in the street if a sidewalk is available. If you have to walk in the road, do so facing traffic. This will help you see oncoming cars and avoid other hazards. If you are walking in the road, keep your dog to your left and out of traffic. It's a simple way to keep you and your friends safe.

Learn more about walking your dog in "Zen and the Art Of Dog Walking" by G. Ray Sullivan Jr. HowStuffWorks picks related titles based on books we think you'll like. Should you choose to buy one, we'll receive a portion of the sale.

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