Turns out, it's happiness, not health that motivates dog walkers


Life, Health

Dog walking is used to meet the emotional needs of the owner and dog, study finds.

Representational Image. (Photo: Pexels)

Washington: People walk their dogs outside because it makes them happy, not because of other health and social benefits, according to a new research.

In the University of Liverpool study of dog owner's perceptions of dog walking to date, 26 interviews were combined with personal written reflections of dog walking experiences. The researchers 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 behaviour 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.

Study lead Dr Carri Westgarth said that the factors that motivate dog walking are extremely complex, "yet we know they can strongly motivate human health behaviour. 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."

Westgarth added: "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. This may explain why pilot dog walking interventions with messages focused on health or social benefits have not been particularly successful.

"Possible key points for future interventions to increase dog walking are to promote how it may increase the dogs, and thus the owner's, happiness." The study appears in the journal International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.