In the age of social media, dozens of videos go viral showing dogs doing amazing things: back flips, climbing trees, walking on tight ropes. A common response to these videos is outrage over the danger the dog is put in. Even more common activities like agility, trick training, or hiking carry an element of risk. It’s important not to dismiss that risk as other people being over sensitive, because injuries can happen in any of these activities. This is how I manage risk in deciding what activities I do with my dog, and how I keep us both safe during them.
When I’m doing an activity where I or my dog can get hurt if something goes wrong, I want to make it as unlikely as possible that anything does go wrong.
When I go camping with my dogs, I research where we will go and download maps to my fully charged phone. I make sure my dog has the training he needs to listen to me in unusual situations.
Before I ask my dog to be vigorous and athletic, I make sure he is warmed up just like a human athlete does to avoid injury. He exercises either off leash so he doesn’t get tangled, or wearing a harness so I can spot him.
In a new place without a fence, he wears a long line until he demonstrates he is trustworthy off leash.
If an accident does happen, I want the damage to be as little as possible.
I keep a first aid kit stocked with supplies for humans and dogs in my car, and have a smaller kit in my backpack (and I’m trained to use it).
Someone always knows where we are camping or hiking and when we expect to be back, even if it’s just one of the trails through the metro parks.
When I bike with my dog, we stick to trails away from busy roads so if there’s an accident, we don’t fall in to traffic. And wear a helmet!
We do agility with competition quality equipment so if there is an accident, it falls away safely.
I want to make sure I’m getting real benefits from the risks I’m taking, and that the benefit is more than the risk it takes to get.
When I am teaching my dog that things moving under his feet is fun and exciting, a broad and low tippy board gives me just as much benefit as a regulation agility teeter does.
When I have my dog pose on objects for cute pictures, I make sure it has a non-slip surface and he can fit on it comfortably.
I love playing dog sports and being outdoors, having adventures with my dog and I want other people to be able to experience the same things I do. But we’re able to do those activities safely because I take steps to manage the risk inherent in those activities and learn the skills I need to do them in a safe manner.