The most severe injuries I’m aware of owners getting when training a dog have been falls not bites. While most bites result in either no injury, minor punctures or stitches, I’m aware of people who have had injuries ranging from fractures, dislocations to concussions and even brain aneurysms from exuberant dogs causing them to fall.
I have a rare form of a poorly understood neurological disorder called generalized dystonia. Like many conditions, I fluctuate. Some days I walk slowly but independently, some days I need a rollator (rolling walker) or power wheelchair to get around safely.
Ironically, I’m actually at higher risk of injury on my good days when working with dogs. Simply put, in a wheelchair, I cannot be knocked down. Many dogs will not jump on a person using a walker. My clients who have medical issues also are at higher risk of falling when they are not using adaptive equipment. However, even people with no physical limitations can fall and have a serious injury if a dog pulls them hard enough.
Here are a few tips that have helped me prevent serious falls over my years training dogs:
- I address high risk zone behaviors immediately, while the dog is a puppy! This means good manners at stairs, doorways needs to happen right from the start. For me this is such a priority that I literally never allow any of my dogs as pups to ever run down stairs when on leash. This is easily trained to most small pups with some really yummy treats in front of the pup’s nose rewarding for pausing on each step.
- For large dogs who are already hooligans on stairs, train while seated safely in a chair or while standing (if safely able to) next to a short flight of steps rather than directly on the steps.
- Look at humane equipment like head collars and no pull harnesses to see if that gives you safe leverage.
- Don’t take chances, know your limits and be willing to hire a professional to do the work for you. If a dog is too powerful, or the behavior too risky, I refer to colleagues who can safely handle those dogs.
- Teaching controlled behavior when greeting another dog is important. My pups do not get to rush up to another dog, they must first sit, look at me and wait for verbal permission before saying hello. I don’t let the interaction go on too long on leash, otherwise they may start playing or bouncing. After a few seconds, I call my dog back to me and we move away.
- I set myself up to succeed. If I’m flared up I train indoors, or work with my dogs in my fenced in yard where I can train without a leash.
A skilled professional trainer can help with ideas on accommodating the training strategy, but also don’t forget you can talk about these challenges with a rehabilitation professional too. They may have ideas for adaptive strategies or equipment that can help you safely train and enjoy your dog.