Forget Brexit and Theresa May’s resignation. The most important debate of the week is going on in parks and fields right now after experts told the nation’s F12 million dog owners we’ve been walking our pets the wrong way!
It turns out that tens of thousands of us have inadvertently been putting ourselves at risk of serious hand injuries because we’re holding leads incorrectly. What should be a walk in the park is turning into a trip to A&E. Experts at the British Society for Surgery of the Hand say they are regularly treating patients who have hurt themselves while walking their dogs. A single hospital – Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust – treated 30 serious injuries as a result of “dog lead or collar misuse” in just one year, according to the society. Lacerations, fractures, dislocated fingers, tissue loss, friction burns and scarring, the gruesome list of dog walking-related injuries is enough to turn you into a cat person! Consultant surgeon Rebecca Dunlop reports: “Having seen many serious injuries caused by dog leads and collars, I want dog lovers to be aware of the simple steps they can take to avoid severe damage to their hand.
“We want to ensure dog owners are able to carry on enjoying time with their dogs without risking damage to their hand and time in hospital.”
Mrs Dunlop, who is a hand specialist at the Duchy Hospital in Truro, added: “One particularly common injury caused by dog collars and leads is spiral fractures of the finger bones, which often need an operation to fix.”
Now, before you go barking mad, I’ve owned dogs for 17 years and, growing up, my father was Secretary of the Shropshire Branch of the RSPCA so I’m a passionate animal lover.
In fact, I’d go as far as saying dogs are the main thing I’m interested in and my weekly radio show The Barking Hour, on all things dogs, is the only one of its kind in Europe.
I’m currently, the proud owner of a Mini (but very strong) Bull Terrier called Prudence, and I think in this case the experts might just be on to something.
It’s the incessant wrapping of leads around fingers, hands and wrists that does all the damage, coupled with hooking fingers under a dog’s collar.
These are leading to injuries when dogs make sudden moves as we all know they are wont to do.
Judging by some of the pet owners I’ve seen in my local park, battling to keep control of their huge pets with legs akimbo and leads everywhere, it’s a wonder there aren’t more injuries.
Let’s face it, none of us is getting any younger and our hands aren’t as strong or resilient as they used to be to the odd pull or knock.
In my experience, pulling a lead tight doesn’t even give you any more control over your pet – especially if it’s a biggie – and the UK’s most popular breed is the labrador, average weight 66 pounds. All you’re doing is creating tension.
When you’re riding a horse, everyone says keep the reins loose. And it’s the same with a dog. The lead is like an umbilical cord, it’s the only thing that connects you to your pet.
The energy goes down the lead and if you’re tight and tense, your dog will be too.
Wrapping a long lead round your wrist or hand will just serve to create more tension, at a time when they may be at their most excitable – approaching a park, road or other animals – and you’re most likely to be injured by a sudden lunge.
Likewise, you shouldn’t keep especially large dogs on a long lead, because if they build up speed it will cause a wrenching force on the hand and upper body.
Dog trainers encourage a short-ish, loose lead and proper training so your dog knows to stay at heel and slow down as it approaches danger.
So instead of wrapping the lead grimly around your hand, just relax and breathe and your pet will too (hopefully).
After all, if there’s a huge German Shepherd running at you at full speed, there’s not a lot more you can do other than desperately hope the dogs get on!
I admit, it’s a natural instinct to grip all the more tightly and whisper a silent prayer when you’re under pressure from all sides.
But when another dog bursts out of the bushes to say hello, or your own pet makes a sudden dart for that terribly smelly fox poo it adores, you’ll be caught short and find yourself – and your hands – getting a painful, potentially damaging tug.
Dogs are incredibly powerful and the bigger they are the more momentum they have. My dog, Prudence, who is nearly four and successor to my first Mini Bull Terrier Molly, might be small but she has a low centre of gravity and her breed is incredibly stubborn.
She’s taken me with her more than once when she’s decided to investigate something terribly interesting in the other direction. Having a strong, comfortable lead and collar is a must.
For bigger dogs, try a collar with an in-built grab handle.
And don’t even get me started on so-called flexileads, those nylon-wrapped wire leads that retract in and out at the push of a button – catching hands and clothes, burning fingers and generally tying you up in knots. In principle they’re a fantastic idea but in practice they can be dangerous.
I had one wrapped around my legs recently, leaving me with a terrible ankle burn. Ouch, the pain. I’ve even known dogs die from being on flexileads when the mechanism broke or jammed.
One friend’s phone rang when she was walking her dog and she took the call assuming she’d depressed the button and her pet was under control.
It didn’t work and a black cab pulled up to the curb and ran over her poor pet.
For me, like millions of other dog owners, taking Prudence out for walks is one of the day’s highlights.
Dogs are the key to the outdoors so it’s not worth risking life – and limb – by using the wrong lead or wrapping it around your fingers. Take it from me, it’s a dog’s life otherwise.
Anna Webb co-presents The Barking Hour with JoAnn Good, every Thursday from 2.30 to 3.30pm on BBC Radio London, available on the BBC Sounds app.