A New Study Can Get You Motivated to Walk Your Dog
There are many health benefits to walking a dog, both for owners and pets. However, a large percentage of dog owners hardly ever walk their dog. A recent survey revealed that only half of dog owners take them on daily walks, and 33% rarely engage in any type of dog exercise. Scientists were surprised to learn that dog owners choose to forgo an activity that can be highly beneficial to them, and to their pet.
A new study finally sheds some light on this mystery, providing clues about why some people walk their dogs while others don't. These findings could provide researchers with tools to devise activities and initiatives to help promote the habit of dog walking.
The health benefits of dog walking
Many dogs owners genuinely enjoy being out and about with their dogs. They are such dependable and consistent training partners. They help you form and maintain the habit of daily walking, motivating many of us to get up and move when we might otherwise follow inertia and remain sedentary.
A study from The University of Western Australia examined a population of 483 individuals who kept a dog. They found that 80% of individuals who walked their dogs regularly succeeded in meeting the suggested 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Even people that walked their dogs only sporadically were more likely to meet the suggested guidelines (as compared with people who don't have a dog).
The following video presents some of the numerous health and social benefits enjoyed by consistently walking a dog. Advantages include lower blood pressure, enhanced cardiovascular fitness, reduced stress and stronger muscles and bones.
Dogs and humans share the rewards of walking together
- Daily strolls are an opportunity for dog and owner to spend some quality time together. This is important in order to strengthen your emotional connection and from a trusting relationship.
- Walking is a tried and tested way for both humans and dogs to start losing some weight.
- Extra activity is useful in avoiding dog boredom and consequentially improving the dogs' behavior inside the house. Having a well behaved dog will likely improve your mood as well.
- Walks are an opportunity for you and your dog to experience the outside world together. Trying different paths, exploring the sights and smells around you, discovering new places.
- Walking by yourself can get pretty lonely. Your dog may also feel neglected sitting alone in the backyard. Walking together can elevate loneliness and present opportunities for socialization.
Understanding how dogs enhance and motivate walking
The reality is that despite all of the well-known benefits many dog owners hardly ever walk their dogs. Dr Carri Westgarth, a research fellow in public health at the University of Liverpool in England, decided to address these worrying statistics. She recently initiated a program to inspire physical activity through dog walking. In order for this program to succeed it is vital for the scientists to understand and deal with the real reasons that cause people to avoid walking their dogs.
Dr Westgarth led the new study which was recently published in BMC Public Health utilizing a large existing database about the lifestyles and health of 629 dogs owners residing in Perth, Australia. The aim of this study was to examine the demographic and behavioral factors that influence owners to form a strong sense of encouragement and motivation to walk with their dogs.
The participants completed multiple questionnaires, comprising queries about pets and the scope of household’s physical activities. Including questions like: 'Dog encouragement to walk' (how often did my dog encourage me to walk in the last month) and 'Dog motivation to walk' (Having a dog inspires me to walk more). The scientists studied these answers in order to find out what aspects of the dogs, the neighborhood or the owners themselves are conducive to dog walking.
The factors that were positively associated with dog walking, i.e. the considerations that make people more likely to exercise their pets daily, are:
- Owning a relatively larger dog. In particular, animals weighing less than 30 pounds were considerably less likely to be taken out for exercise.
- Having a higher level of emotional attachment to the dog.
- Understanding that the dog enjoys being taken for a walk.
- Knowing that regular exercise is important to keeping their pet healthy.
- Having a supportive family that understands the importance of daily walks.
- Believing that daily exercises can reduce a dog's tendency to bark.
- Having better access to public open spaces.
Factors that were negatively associated with dog walking, i.e. issues that were likely to cause people to avoid taking a pet for daily walks are:
- Owners are less likely to exercise their pet when they perceived the presence of dog-specific barriers to daily walking, such as an old, sick or overweight dog.
- If there was a child in the household, and the task of dog walking was delegated to him.
- When the job of caring for the animal was delegated to a spouse/partner.
It is interesting to note that some of the factors that determine the motivation and likelihood of a dog to be walked are related to the dog itself, while other issues are associated with the owner. Another important matter is the availability of dog parks and other relevant public spaces.
How often do you walk your dog?
This study can help guide researchers in designing programs to encourage people to walk their dogs. The factors that were uncovered could be the focus of future interventions, aimed at increasing and maintaining physical activity levels of both people and pets.
In particular, the results of the study suggest that many people are not aware of the benefits of dog walking and are quite happy to avoid or delegate the task. People may also underestimate the requirements and capabilities of their dogs. For example, it is a false belief that small dogs don't need to be regularly walked. Animals that suffer from health issues, such as overweight or aging dogs, could actually benefits from regular exercise. You may wish to check with your vet regarding a specific issue, and out-of-shape dogs may need to be gradually reintroduced to exercising.
This study highlights the need to educate dog owners about the importance of daily exercise to a dog's health and mental wellbeing. Once you start discovering the joys of dog walking, seeing your pet enjoying itself, exploring and sniffing, you are likely to stick with it.