Walking a Dog: Good for You and the Dog

A dog-walking intervention helpfully led to increased dog walking behaviour, this study shows.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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We all know that owning pets is said to be good for you. One of the benefits of owning a dog is taking it for walks. And walking – like any other form of exercise – is good for your health.

It surprises me that some people don’t walk their dogs, because having to go out in all weathers is one of the things I like about having dogs. However wet and windy it is outside, it’s (usually) not so bad once you actually get out there. And walking helps prevent canine obesity as well as human obesity. Dogs that are left on their own in a yard to exercise are more likely to be obese than dogs that have an exercise regime, according to a study by I.M. Bland et al in 2009. When dogs are left in a yard, even if that yard is more than an acre in size, they just don’t seem to do enough exercise.

A recent study looked at whether people could be persuaded to do more walking for the sake of their dog. It’s a different approach than telling people it’s for their own good. In a study published earlier this year, Ryan Rhodes and colleagues from the University of Victoria, Canada, did a randomized trial of a dog-walking intervention.

People were recruited for a study on dog-walking, and randomly assigned to either a control or an intervention group. The control group were told to keep up their normal dog-walking regimen, while the intervention group were given lots of literature on the benefits of dog-walking for their dog and tips on a dog-walking regime. Both groups were followed up at six and twelve weeks.

One finding was that simply taking part in a study on dog-walking led to more dog-walking, even in the control group. Perhaps people took part because they felt motivated to walk the dog more.

However, in the intervention group, the amount of dog-walking was significantly increased. One of the nice things about this study is that they took subjective measures (how much time people reported walking their dog) as well as using pedometers to track how many steps people took. Both of these measures were significantly higher in the intervention group, and this is important because otherwise we wouldn’t have known for sure if people actually walked as much as they said they did.

So, if people can’t motivate themselves to exercise for their own benefit, maybe they’ll go for a walk for the sake of their dog. 

How often do you walk your dog? And do you still go out in bad weather?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

Bland, I.M., Guthrie-Jones, A. Taylor, R.D. and Hill, J. (2009) Dog obesity: owner attitudes and behaviour. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 92, 333-340.
Rhodes, R.E., Murray, H., Temple, V.A., Tuokko, H. and Higgins, J.W. (2012) Pilot study of a dog-walking randomized intervention: Effects of a focus on canine exercise. Preventive Medicine, 54, 309-312.

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