The People's Perspective on Medicine

Are Dog-Walkers at Risk for Broken Bones?

Dog-walkers get more exercise, but they must take care not to end up in a tumble that could break a bone.

For years, health experts have been telling people that exercise is critical for good health and that walking is great exercise. Dog ownership can contribute: Regular dog-walkers get more exercise than people without pets.

Research on Dog-Walkers:

A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (March 2011) showed that people who own dogs are one-third more likely to get the recommended minimum of exercise each week. About 40 percent of the Michigan residents surveyed own a dog, and two-thirds of those walk the dog regularly, for at least 10 minutes at a time. Overall, dog owners were 69 percent more likely to get physical activity than people without dogs. One author, a veterinarian, points out that regular exercise is important for dogs to avoid obesity and health problems just as it is for humans. Older people and those with young dogs got the most exercise from walking the dog.

Dog-Walkers’ Dangers:

A study published in JAMA Surgery highlighted a downside of this otherwise pleasant activity, however (Pirruccio et al, JAMA Surgery, March 6, 2019). Dog ownership has increased in the US over the last decade, but so have broken bones among older people out walking their dogs.

Such fractures doubled between 2004 and 2017, with the majority of broken bones in women. About half of the breaks were in arms, wrists or fingers. The other fractures, unfortunately, were more concerning. About 17 percent of the broken bones were hips, a situation that can have serious negative consequences for a person’s mobility or even survival.

The scientists recommend obedience training for pets so they don’t tug at the leash suddenly to tip a person over. In addition, it makes sense to match the dog and its temperament to the strength of the owner. What doesn’t make sense is to tell people not to walk their dogs!

Readers have written about the joys of being dog-walkers.

Beau10 said:

“My throw-away-to-arrive-on-my-doorstep canine turned into the most unbelievable therapy tool for my bed-bound dad for whom I provided 24/7 care (no complaint). After my dad passed away, I was able to take this guy for at least a 30 minute AM & PM fast walk every day. At the end of the walk I throw a ball for him to chase and fetch.

“The exercise is great for both of us and has become truly necessary for me. If I am late to take him out he will drag the leash to me and drop it at my feet. I absolutely adore this guy who has taught me I do not ‘own’ him – we have a 50-50 partnership.

“Take your canine out for a walk – you will both become addicted.”

CDW agreed: 

“Oh so true. I have a 7 1/2 year old long legged dachshund who thinks he is a greyhound! He does make frequent stops.”

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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John in Baltimore, why not take your neighbor’s dog for a walk if they don’t?

Did the studies include what kind of a leash people were using? I own two dogs and curse the person who invented the retractable leash. This invention is a menace! I have heard from several dog owners who got tangled up in the retractable leash when their dog did something unexpected. Some have fallen when tangled. People do not have control over their dogs with these leashes. It’s also easier for dogs in these leashes to attack other dogs or people. These leashes give the dogs too much slack, and sometimes you can’t reel them in fast enough. I think they should be banned.

I am SO glad to see this article! As a former Veterinary Technnician and current animal behaviorist and dog trainer I am constantly dismayed to see people with the WRONG dog, and/or that people think “good” dogs are just born that way and if their dog misbehaves it’s because that’s a “bad” dog. There is no such thing–it’s all behavior shaping and training.

I had a client who’s 45lb dog pulled so hard on the leash trying to chase a squirrel that he pulled her over and broke her leg! THEN she decided maybe some training was in order. As a Vet Tech, I knew an older couple in their 70’s whose old dachshund had died. So they went out and got TWO new Weimareiner puppies! Weimareiners are VERY strong, very large (70 lbs or so) and very active–especially as puppies. These people were struggling, and I’ve always wondered if they were able to keep those dogs or if they dogs ever hurt them. They did NO training of any kind with them.

I also had a client who refused to keep their 80lb 1 year-old husky mix in a crate after she was 4 months old. They said “she needs the exercise while we’re gone”. Oh, really?? In a way they were right–she ate their leather sofa, destroyed woodwork, and broke a window TWICE and jumped out of the house to roam free while they were at work. They are lucky she wasn’t killed or lost. And then they started letting their 12 yr-old daughter who was a very fragile, tiny thing that probably weighed 60lbs soaking wet, walk the dog, instead of me. Two years later that lovely, sweet (although wild) dog ended up at the humane society. I wonder if she hurt that girl one day while out walking.

I have only had a few clients come to me for any training and then usually only a session or two. I find that people just don’t want to be told they have to act differently around their dog, or do anything differently, or be consistent. It’s just “too hard.” It’s such a shame, and now it’s finally being proven that untrained dogs ARE a hazard! On behalf of animal and dog experts everywhere, thanks for posting this article.

I started out reading your article in the AJC and you were so good I subscribed to this newsletter. So informative and thankfully honest and transparent for “the people”! I have recommended your website to many friends and family! There is always something for me in these articles. Thank you Terry and Joe!

Many of my neighbors have dogs and never take them for a walk. I don’t have a dog but go for a long walk every day. You need time (I am retired) not a dog to do exercises.

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