Are Dog Owners More Physically Active?
So the issue of whether or not owning a dog makes people more physically active is something I’ve always wondered about.
A rather comprehensive review by Hayley Cutt and colleagues from the University of Western Australia, published in Health & Place (2007) takes a critical look at the literature on this issue.
The paper considers data from 65 published studies on this issue and analyses the data using an ecological framework.
It turns out that the effect of dog ownership on walking is rather inconclusive. This is because, as the authors point out,
“Just as many types of environmental factors affect walking in general, it is possible that walking with a dog is affected by a myriad of social, physical and policy-related environmental factors.”
The paper also looks at the impact of dog ownership on social interactions and support but also the downsides including dog bites and zoonoses.
Overall, the authors find that the research on the issue of whether or not dog ownership increases physical activity is far from exhaustive.
They do point out the limitations of current data and discuss why answering this question is perhaps not as simple as most people may think:
“Future studies investigating the relationship between dog ownership and human physical activity need to measure whether people walk with their dog as opposed to walk their dog. In the latter case, owners may chat, sit on a bench or throw a ball while their dog exercises alone, or with other dogs. Not only is a better understanding of the amount of dog walking undertaken required, but exploration of the effect of dog-specific characteristics, socio-demographic factors of owners and the impact of the social, physical and policy environment on people being able to walk with their dog in public are also warranted.”
Clearly plenty of research left to be done for anyone interested in this issue.
If you have personal experience on how owning a dog (or any other pet) changed your level of physical activity, I’d be very interested in hearing about it.
Cutt H, Giles-Corti B, Knuiman M, & Burke V (2007). Dog ownership, health and physical activity: a critical review of the literature. Health & place, 13 (1), 261-72 PMID: 16503185