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Are Dog Owners More Physically Active?

13_walkingTheDogAs someone who grew up around dogs, I cannot begin to count the hours that I spent playing around with and walking our dogs.

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.

Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgCutt 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




  1. One of many reasons for having my 100 lb dog is that he forces me out the door in all weather for two 30 – 60 minute brisk walks per day. I also get some strength training when I hold him back when he sees a rabbit! Another advantage of having a large dog is that I can walk the river valley paths with him and feel safe; something that I would not do on my own. So, to answer your question, yes, in addition to being a wonderful companion, my dog makes me more active.

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  2. My husband and I (both in our 50s) just got a Rottweiler puppy this spring. In spite of the inconclusive research, I can certainly attest our new baby has made us MUCH more active!

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  3. I know that getting a dog made a difference for me. We had an older dog who didn’t require walking, we live on a farm and she was a farm dog. Then I adopted a lab mix puppy. Hold on! She was a ball of energy that needed spent. As she got older our walks got longer. I have hip arthritis as well as hip bursitis and snapping hip syndrome, so walking is difficult at the best of times, but walk her I must. We use an old logging road on the farm, up and down hills and very rocky. I am sure she runs a good 5 miles to every half mile of my walking, but we both enjoy it and the old dog usually joins in with us too. No I haven’t lost a “ton of weight” but my blood pressure went lower, blood glucose normalized and energy levels increased. I also love the outdoors and watching the seasons change. I already follow a ketogenic diet but the exercise was the “missing link” in my routine, I really feel the dog made a positive difference.

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  4. I’ve often suggested to my clients that they consider getting pets for all sorts of reasons including activity. Many years ago a client reluctantly agreed and he called me somewhat angrily because his new puppy had somehow pulled him awkwardly into a lamppost and he had broken his ankle! For what it’s worth, My dogs add 20 miles a week to my exercise regimen.

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  5. From dogwalker Sherri: I am a dog owner and a dog walker. We walk together along with my children, now 11 and 14. Every day, no matter what the weather we dress appropriately and we head out. On very cold days when we would usually not go out on our own accord, we do because we have a dog, it may be shorter walks, maybe 15-20 minutes when its -20 C, other days 30-60 minutes. My kids have mentioned in just a few weeks ago, that there are so many more people walking now that it is summer, they said in the winter it’s just usually us we see out. So personally, I know I will always try to have a dog, just to have that extra push to get me out when I don’t really want to. I know I always feel better afterwards, even if inital motivation was “it’s for the dog”.

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  6. Dogs force people to be more active out of necessity. I think most pet owners want their pets to be as healthy and happy as possible. Fortunately a consequence of that is that you become more healthier and happier in the process.

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