Using 26 interviews combined with personal written reflections of dog walking experiences, the authors of a International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health paper found that while owners may say the reason they go walking is to benefit the dog, the importance of their own improved happiness and wellbeing is clear.
These feelings of happiness, however, are contingent on the owner believing that their dog is enjoying the walk too. Anything that threatens this, such as behavior problems, a perception that they have a 'lazy' dog, or their dog is too old, reduces their motivation to walk.
Increased physical activity and social interactions with other dog owners were found to be secondary bonuses but were rarely motivating.
With more than eight million dogs in households across the UK, dog walking is a popular everyday activity. An owner briskly walking their dog for at least 30 minutes each day easily exceeds the 150 minutes recommended minimum physical activity per week. If all dog owners did this it would dramatically boost population levels of physical activity, yet some rarely walk with their dog at all.
The paper concludes that dog walking is used to meet the emotional needs of the owner as well as the needs of the dog. This may explain why pilot dog walking interventions with messages focused on health or social benefits have not been successful.
Citation: 'I Walk My Dog Because It Makes Me Happy: A Qualitative Study to Understand Why Dogs Motivate Walking and Improved Health' International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, DOI:10.3390/ijerph14080936