It was just a simple two-step shuffle to avoid tripping over my dog and then I fell. Reaching my hands out to avoid crashing my head into the curb, I broke my left wrist.
I thus became one of the more than 86,000 people a year who end up in the emergency room after tripping over their family pet. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) most of those falls (76,000 or 88%) were caused by dogs.
Most of the time, tripping over your dog doesn’t cause a severe or incapacitating injury. In my case, I needed outpatient surgery to repair my badly broken wrist. I’ve had more than three months of physical therapy and months of pain and swelling. At times, I’ve seriously thought about whether I should have a dog or ever get another dog in the future.
I’ve backed away from such extreme reactions. There are ways to help avoid tripping over your dog. Here are the best tips I’ve found:
- Train your dog to walk at your side. This doesn’t have to be a tight heel; walking on a loose leash at your side is fine. You should hold the leash in the hand at the side where you want the dog to walk. Keeping some treats in your other hand can help encourage the dog to stay at your side. My dog Spike is more challenging. He’s small and close to the ground, not motivated by treats and is nearly deaf. I switched to using a chest harness so I could pull him to my side without choking him. I also keep him on a shorter leash held out away from my body.
- Get obedience training if you have a dog that tends to pull or drag you when walking.
- Stay alert as you walk. Spike has a bad habit of crossing in front of my feet so closely I actually kick him slightly. He’s always trying to drift to my left side. When you keep the leash short and fairly tight, you get more physical signals about where your dog is. This goes a long way toward preventing falls.
- Keep dog toys picked up. Tripping over dog toys or food bowls caused 8.8% of pet-related fall injuries, according to the CDC study.
- Clean up spilled water or scattered food as soon as you see it. Spilled water is especially dangerous because it’s nearly invisible and slippery.
- Train your dog not to jump on people when it gets excited. People who don’t have much experience with dogs are particularly vulnerable if a dog jumps on them.
- Attach a bell to your pet. This can help you know where your pet is at all times.
One of the worst parts of my fall has been the lasting fear of falling again. With time and experience, that’s getting better. I no longer daydream or allow myself to get lost in my own thoughts as I walk. I try to stay in the moment, alert to where my dog is walking.