The number of injuries caused by dog walking more than quadrupled during the study period, with about 7,200 in 2001 and about 32,000 in 2020, according to the study.
Levine said he does not know why the data showed that these injuries are occurring more frequently; he has not seen that in his ER. But there are some theories.
Pet ownership has been increasing in recent years, data shows, and bone fractures among older adults have been on the rise from dog walking as older adults have tried to stay active, previous research has shown.
At the same time, Levine said, hospitals have started being more specific with diagnostic coding.
“So it’s not that there’s necessarily a true increase in the frequency of, say, a wrist fracture,” but the diagnoses are simply more precise, such as a wrist fracture because of contact with a dog, which makes the cases easier to identify, he said.
Karen B. London, a professional dog trainer and applied animal behaviorist, said she has clients who have been pulled over by their dogs and suffered injuries such as broken fingers and dislocated shoulders.
How to make leashed dog walking safer
People, particularly older adults, should take precautions when walking their dogs, especially large dogs, said London, an adjunct professor in biological sciences at Northern Arizona University. She suggests:
- Using front-attaching harnesses to help keep the dog from pulling.
- Choosing shorter leashes — 6 to 8 feet long — to avoid tripping on them.
- Steering clear of retractable leashes, which can injure both dogs and their owners.
- Avoiding places where a dog is known to be distracted, such as a schoolyard.
- Carrying a squeaky toy or treats to help the dog regain focus when distractions occur.
“But I really think the biggest thing you can do is training,” she said. “Teaching a dog to walk nicely on a leash is really helpful.”
The findings should not cause older adults to shy away from dog ownership, London said.
She recommends that people balance the costs and benefits of dog ownership and find ways to mitigate risks. For instance, older people can have another person accompany them on dog walks, or choose a smaller dog, so “there’s not a mismatch in strength,” she said.
“I hope in my golden years, someone doesn’t say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if a dog is good for you,’” London said. “In fact, that might be the best thing for me.”