You mention Man’s (or Woman’s) best friend and you instinctively think of dogs. Along with cats, dogs are the constant companions of many older people. They provide company and, for many, a means of exercise.
Driving home last night I passed a guy out walking with his Collie and it got me thinking of the days when I used to go walking and running with my German Shepherd Dog. I started to wonder whether I should get another dog to come with me on my walks.
I have always envied friends of mine who walk/run with their dogs. In particularly Tracy with her boys Asher and Marley and Lisa with the beautiful Poppy (aka The Beast). Their pictures appear all over twitter and Instagram showing the fun and joy that can be had from being outside with a dog.
However, this morning whilst researching dog walking and exercise, I came across an article published by US News* and CNN** from last March. They were reporting on research carried out by the University of Pennsylvania regarding the connection between dog walking and accidents in older people.
Whilst it has always been suggested that dog walking is a good way for the elderly to gain exercise and improve their physical health. The study found that the estimated number of fractures, in the United States, associated with walking leashed dogs had risen by 163% among patients aged 65 and over. In 2004 there were 1,671 reported cases at A&E compared to 4,396 in 2017.
Hip injuries accounted for the highest number of fractures, followed by upper arm and wrist fractures. Most of the fractures occurred amongst women and 28.7% required a stay in hospital. There are many reasons why older people may already be more prone to fractures, such as reduced bone mass and increased fall frequency due to diminished balance.
There is however, solutions to this problem and there is no reason for older people not to go walking with their beloved dogs. Two of the key factors are the size of the animal and its behavioural traits. Smaller breeds should be more easily manageable and less likely to try to pull you over.
But the most important element of all is training. If you are contemplating getting a dog to take walking, then it is advisable to go to obedience training. These classes are not just for the dog, but the owner as well. If a dog will always come to heel when called and not pull when approached by other dogs or people, then you can greatly reduce the risk of falling.
Do not use a retractable lead as they as they are wrong on so many levels. Apart from being a nuisance to other walkers, trying a avoid getting tangled in an overlong lead. They give you no control over your dog. If you are to maintain an obedient and well controlled dog then please always use a short lead.
I remember, with great affection, the pleasure I had taking my GSD walking, and whilst I am personally too use to solo walking now to go back to having a dog. I think that for the older person they can be a great inducement to getting outside and taking some exercise. Then there is, of course, the unquestioned love and devotion that you will get in return.
Tracy Purnell, Asher & Marley can be found on Instagram @asher.marley and Twitter @ashermarley
Lisa Well & Poppy can be found on Instagram @lisawells00 and Twitter @lisawells00