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  • Physical Therapy Tips For Dog Owners

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It has long been suggested that pet ownership is associated with improved physical, social, and psychological well-being.1 As a “mom” to a large, goofy, and very spoiled dog, I have experienced many of these benefits firsthand. I have also become increasingly aware of the physical demands that accompany pet ownership through both personal and patient-shared experiences. Follow along for tips to consider when walking, playing, and caring for your pet in hopes of keeping you both happy, healthy, and injury free.

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• Consider using a no-pull harness for walking and running. Examples include the Halti, Gentle Leader and Wonder Walker harnesses, which all utilize front leash attachment points to minimize forward pulling. This is important as excessive pull can lead to sudden and/or repetitive stress throughout the arm, neck and back.



• Keep the leash and/or your dog close to you, particularly in exciting or unpredictable environments. By holding the leash, collar, or harness close to you and your center of mass, you will be able react to changes in pull, force, and direction with more control and maintain a lower risk of injury.

• Try alternating arms (or people!) for holding leashes and throwing toys. Habitual postures and movement patterns have the potential to lead to abnormal stresses placed on specific tissues of the body over time. For example, walking with a leash in hand has the potential to impact your normal reciprocal arm swing, can promote changes in spinal rotation, and often challenges the strength and stabilization of only one arm at a time. Switching up your usual movement patterns can introduce new joint mobility and strength challenges while ideally minimizing any symptoms of overuse.


• Be mindful of your body mechanics. Caring for pets often involves a variety of different body positions for performance of daily tasks. This might include attaching leashes and harnesses, reaching down into yards and over into bath tubs, or lifting and carrying food, supplies and even your dog. When lifting, keep the object close to your body and squat down to utilize the strength and power of your legs for lifting. Also consider kneeling or half-kneeling to get down to your dog’s level for grooming, bathing, cuddles, and attaching leashes or harnesses. This may minimize the need for bending forward at the waist, which can be an aggravating position for many individuals predisposed to back pain or injury.

• Take obedience classes and practice what you learn. In 2006, the CDC estimated that an average of 86,629 fall injuries per year were associated with cats and dogs. They recommend educating the public about the potential fall risk associated with pet ownership and encouraged obedience classes as a method of minimizing this risk.2 Be aware of your surroundings, including friends, family, and community members that may have balance difficulty and/or be at an increased fall risk.

• Remember that you and your dog ultimately know what works best for you. Whether it’s from trial-and-error or training and planning, try to find patterns of behavior that work best for both of you and turn it into a comfortable routine. For example, if you happen to pass me on a trail this summer you will likely find my dog, Murphy, comfortably standing and waiting in between my legs. He is a large and strong dog who is often very excited to meet and greet friends as we hike although can be easily and unpredictably spooked. We have found that we are both most comfortable (and safe -- no bending required!) if he casually observes from between my legs as larger groups of people and dogs pass by.


This list is intended to serve as a general reference for ways to safely and confidently perform many of the usual tasks associated with caring for a pet. There is a wonderfully diverse group of individuals who care for pets, and with that comes a variety of different individualized needs. As physical therapists, we are uniquely qualified to assess the impact that your particular injury, surgery, limitation or concern may have on your movement patterns and your ability to interact with your pet and your environment.


In the News:

NPR Story

Dog Walks Count as Exercise (more)

About the aurthors:

Samantha McDaniel, PT, DPT

Ben Wobker, PT,MSPT, CSCS, SFMAc


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Murphy McDaniel


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Dagny Wobker




Tucker O'Connell


Tenzie Pare'


Rusty O'Connell


Video Credit:

Samie McDaniel

Murphy McDaniel

Ben Wobker



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