Is Your Dog Trying to Kill You?

Probably not—but dogs and cats are responsible for causing more than 80,000 falls every year.

April 8, 2009

Beware of dog: Pets who lurk on stairs or stay underfoot are responsible for thousands of injuries every year.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Being a pet owner certainly has its health perks. Studies have found a cat’s purr can lower your blood pressure and send a shot of feel-good endorphins into your system. And owning a dog can drastically cut your body fat, thanks to all the walking. But if your four-legged friend sticks by your side like Velcro, you could be in for a painful pet pitfall. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently found that cats and dogs often trip their owners, accounting for more than 86,000 falls a year in the U.S.


THE DETAILS: CDC looked at data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All Injury Program, from 2001 to 2006, and searched for emergency room fall injury reports mentioning pet, dog, cat, puppy, kitten, or code 2001 (animal-induced injury). Nearly 90 percent of the pet-related falls were blamed on dogs, and women were more than twice as likely to be injured than men.

WHAT IT MEANS: Pets are a part of the family, and like the rest of your relatives they can literally be a pain in the neck if you let them walk all over you. Take the time to train your cat or dog, and create order in the home to avoid falls that can injure you and them.

Here’s how to keep your pet out from underneath your feet:

• Find the right pet. Since older people are more inclined to a pet-induced spill, they should look for older, calmer pets that are less likely to jump and do figure eights between their legs, suggests Arden Moore, author more than 20 pet books and radio host of Oh Behave, an online Pet Life Radio show. Herding breeds such as border collies, German shepherds, and corgis tend to stick to your ankles like socks, so they may not be a good choice for people who have trouble getting around. Look for the right pet at an animal shelter, or from a breed rescue or an animal fostering organization, suggests Moore.

• Nail the three Cs. If you’re trying to train a dog, you must always be clear, concise, and consistent. “When you want him to sit, repeat the command once, hold a treat next to your eye,” explains Moore. “Move the treat over your head. When they listen, praise them and give them the treat quickly. If they don’t sit, just hold the treat. You can see their little brains working.” And never yell or discipline the dog if he’s just come to you on command—he’ll stop obeying that command.

• Arm yourself with the right training treats. Snacks should only account for 10 percent of your dog’s daily caloric intake, at most. Look for small all-protein products free of by-products, wheat, or corn (or break up larger pieces). Using treats can create miraculous results. “If you teach them ‘sit,’ ‘watch me,’ and ‘leave it,’ you’re going to solve 90 percent of your dog problems,” says Moore.

Here’s how to keep your pet out from underneath your feet (cont’d):

• Don’t overtreat. “Mix it up, keep them on their paws,” says Moore. Don’t give your dog a treat every time he obeys a command. Sometimes just offer praise and walk away. Other times, give them a small handful of treats. It keeps things interesting, and keeps the canine motivated to listen to you.

• Solve the stair danger. Train your dog to sit and stay at the foot of the stairs. If both of you need to go up, command the dog to go up before you so you won’t get knocked over.

• Know when to keep pets out of the kitchen. Things are frantic in the kitchen while you’re cooking, and your pet needs to know to get out of the way. Train your dog to find a spot at dinnertime. It could be a doggie bed, crate, or anywhere away from the kitchen. Give the dog a chew toy once he settles in. Dogs especially enjoy synthetic hollow bones that you can fill with treats.

• Bell the cat. Cats can cause falls, too. You don’t need a kitty GPS system to make sure your cat’s not under your feet. Instead, buy a safety collar with a bell so you can hear when he or she is near.

• Use the paper trick to get a kitten out of your hair. Kittens are fast and furious, and they love pouncing on owners’ ankles. Keep little wads of paper in your pockets at all times so you can deter a playful kitten if you’re too busy to play. “Crinkle the paper so when kittens pop out of their favorite hiding spot, you can toss the wad in the opposite direction of where you’re going,” suggests Moore.

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