Why Do Some Owners Not Walk Their Dogs?

There are two factors that explain why some people don't walk their dog.

Dogs like walking, so why do some dog owners not walk their dogs?
Photo: Jan Faukner/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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In an earlier post, I looked at whether people could be encouraged to take more physical exercise by focusing on the benefits to their dog of going for a walk. It seems they can. But it surprises me that some people don’t walk their dog every day. To me, taking a dog for a walk is one of the lovely things about having a dog, but apparently not everyone feels that way.

A study by Hayley Cutt looks at the reasons why. Public health officials are always looking for ways of encouraging people to exercise, and as Cutt puts it, “one such under-used resource lies patiently, wagging its tail in eagerness to be physically active.”

Participants in this study were a subset of people taking part in a longitudinal survey of a neighbourhood in Perth, Australia. The dog-owners were asked to complete a questionnaire about their dog, how often they walked the dog, and the quality of their relationship.

The study used the framework of the Theory of Planned Behaviour, which psychologists have found a very useful way of looking at the relationship between attitudes and behaviour.

On average, dog owners reported walking the dog four times a week for a total of 134 minutes. This isn’t necessarily the total time the dog was walking for, since some people said that at times their partner walked the dog instead.

Not surprisingly, owners who walked their dogs spent significantly more time walking each week than those who didn’t, and also got significantly more total physical exercise. The proportion of dog owners who did not walk their dog at all was 23%.

The two main factors which meant that owners were not likely to walk their dog were that they felt the dog did not provide motivation to walk more, and that the dog did not provide social support to walk more. A dog can provide social support through companionship, but also because it makes walking more sociable – other people are more likely to talk to someone with a dog. 

Although most owners felt attached to their pet, attachment was not enough to encourage them to walk the dog. The authors suggest that further research investigates whether aspects of the dog – such as size and breed – are related to the perceived motivation and social support to walk the dog.

This intrigues me because they did find that owners of toy or small dogs were the least likely to take them for walks. I wonder if owners of medium and large dogs are more likely to feel that their dogs need exercise, and hence feel more motivation to walk them?

How about you? What makes you feel motivated to walk your dog?

If you liked this post, check out my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Modern Dog magazine calls it "The must-have guide to improving your dog's life."

P.S. You might also like How to encourage people to walk their dog. Walking the dog is just one way pets help people make friends

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. 

Cutt, H. Giles-Corti, B. and Knuiman, M. (2008) Encouraging physical activity through dog-walking: Why don’t some owners walk with their dog? Preventive Medicine, 46, 120-126.

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