Why do people walk their dogs? A new British study suggests it’s not for the exercise.
Instead, dog owners appear to like to take their pups for walks because it makes them happy.
“It’s clear from our findings that dog walking is used to meet the emotional needs of the owner as well as the needs of the dog,” said study author Carri Westgarth, a research fellow at the University of Liverpool.
“This may explain why pilot dog walking interventions with messages focused on health or social benefits have not been particularly successful,” she added.
The researchers interviewed 26 dog owners about dog walking and examined written comments about the experience. The study authors found that while dog owners often like to say the walks are to help the dog, the people also gain a benefit in terms of happiness — but only as long as they think the dog is having a good time.
If the dog is acting up, “lazy” or old, the researchers found, dog owners may be less likely to take them for walks.
Also, other benefits of walking — such as getting exercise and meeting other dog owners — didn’t appear to be as large a factor in terms of motivation for people.
“The factors that motivate dog walking are extremely complex, yet we know they can strongly motivate human health behavior,” Westgarth said. “It is crucial to understand why owners walk their dogs if we are to be able to effectively promote owners to walk their dogs more.”
The researchers noted that a dog owner who briskly walks for 30 minutes a day will get more than the recommended minimum amount of exercise each week.
Possible key points for future interventions to increase dog walking are to promote how it may increase the dog’s, and thus the owner’s, happiness,” Westgarth said.
The study was published Aug. 30 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
For more on the benefits of walking, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.