Walking a dog is as good for the owner as it is for their pet, according to the most in-depth study on the activity to date.
The research published on Thursday revealed dog walking does wonders for human mental health.
In fact, the researchers at the University of Liverpool found owners are more strongly motivated to go dog walking because it makes them feel happy, rather than its other health and social benefits.
They carried out interviews with pet owners, then gathered people’s 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.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool found owners are more strongly motivated to go dog walking because it makes them feel happy, rather than its other health benefits (file image)
These feelings of happiness, however, are based 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 leader Dr Carri Westgarth, a research fellow at the University of Liverpool who interviewed 25 dog owners, said: ‘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.’
Dog owners are generally more physically active than non-owners, yet some rarely walk with their dog at all.
A pet owner briskly walking their dog for at least 30 minutes each day easily exceeds the 150 minutes recommended minimum physical activity per week.
The researchers said if all dog owners did this it would dramatically boost population levels of physical activity.
Dr 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 findings are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.