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My Pet World: A senior says she is getting injured from a small, but strong dog

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

I am an 82-year-old woman who lives with a 20-pound Cairn Terrier. Although he is prey driven, I have had the good health, energy, and strength to handle him until this past year. While walking him, I have suffered a torn rotator cuff and a fractured knee and ankle because he pulled me down to chase a critter I did not spot in time. The doctors tell me the next time, it might be my hip. He failed his first training classes miserably, so I sent him to boot camp with a reputable trainer for two weeks. There was some improvement, but his instincts still won out.

I do not want to give up my dog, but if my sons find out, they will take her from me. She gives my life purpose, and I love her dearly. What can I do?

— Cynthia S., Cleveland, Tennessee

Dear Cynthia,

I am sorry to hear about all your injuries. Here’s what I suggest: First, buy a Halti head collar, Gentle Leader collar, or any other brand of head collar for your dog to wear during his walks. These collars control dogs who excessively pull by managing their movements via the face rather than the incredibly strong neck area. It may take a few days for him to get used to it, but he will get the hang of it.


During these walks, teach him to heel by saying “heel.” When he looks at you, say his reward word — i.e. "Bingo" (or use a clicker) — and give him a treat. You can say his name to encourage him to look up. Heeling helps him learn to look at you before making any decisions about approaching distractions, such as another dog, etc. I also recommend walking him during less active times of the day.

Second, consider hiring a pet sitter who can walk your dog for you a few times a week. Make sure they use the head collar to walk your dog as well, to keep things consistent. If your dog is well-behaved around other dogs, you also might consider doggie daycare to give him some extra exercise.

Third, even though boot camp didn't work, don't give up on training. Keep treats in your pocket and train him to sit down, and stay throughout the day. You can still have some focused training time, but by training him throughout the day, you are building a better bond between the two of you, which helps him learn to listen to you more. Begin training where there are few distractions and gradually increase his exposure to distractions as he progresses. Always use a strong, assertive voice when you work with him, so he learns to listen to you.

As for your sons, if they do find out, I hope that they look for ways for you to keep your canine companion while keeping you safe from injury. There are many mental health benefits of having a pet, especially if you live alone.


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