Reduce risks while enjoying the many benefits of dog ownership
For older adults, the consequences of a fall can be life-altering. Adding dog ownership to the mix requires extra strategies to reduce risk while enjoying companionship and health benefits.
Years ago, our dog charged into me from behind while playing with a neighbor’s dog and I ended up at the orthopedist for knee pain. When asked what brought me in, I thought my explanation was unique. Without missing a beat my doctor said, “We LOVE dogs. Patients getting tripped up or knocked over are about one-third of our business.” Fortunately, my knee and ego were only bruised and I set out to learn more about my dog, dogs in general, and fall prevention strategies:
Reduce risks on stairs
- Train your dog to wait until you are completely up or down before they, too, use the stairs.
- Say their name before giving a verbal command. Doing so ensures they realize you are talking to them. Example: “Fido, sit. Fido, come. Fido, stay.” If you don’t say their name first, they’ll likely hear something similar to how adults sound in Charlie Brown specials, “Wah, wah. Wah wah wah.”
- Be consistent and firm. Dogs want to please, even non-puppies you’ve let bound up and down stairs alongside you for years (my situation).
- No matter what, always use 3-point contact on stairs (read: handrail).
Reduce risks around the house
- Dogs use human facial expressions as cues.
- Most owners look at their dog while telling them to move, not grasping that doing so causes Fido to remain underfoot.
- Instead, look above or away from your dog while walking. He’ll take the cue to move because he can’t be sure you won’t step on him.
- Do this slowly and consistently until Fido realizes he must clear a path, or else.
Reduce risks while dog-walking
- Make sure your dog is well-behaved on the leash and can follow simple commands: sit, wait, heel.
- Obedience training can help achieve good behavior.
- Smaller breeds are best because they can’t easily pull older adults off balance.
- Daily balance practice, such as yoga and Tai Chi, help improve and maintain mobility.
- Likewise, progressive strength training exercises should also be undertaken.
Falls don’t have to be an inevitable part of aging! Incorporating strategies to reduce risk means older adults can focus on all the amazing interests and activities life has to offer, including dog ownership.