Will Walking Your Dog Make You Healthier? Hang on, Read This Study
A University of Liverpool study concluded that people who regularly walk their dogs do it because that’s what makes them happy and not for any health and social benefit.
A University of Liverpool study concluded that people who regularly walk their dogs do it because that’s what makes them happy and not for any health and social benefit.(Photo: iStock)

Will Walking Your Dog Make You Healthier? Hang on, Read This Study

A Cesar’s Way advertisement pops up on the screen cajoling you to include your dog as a part of your weight-loss routine to make it more pleasurable.

Those shapely bodies on the advertisement may encourage you to get up and take a look at your lard-enhanced, midriff tyres in the mirror. You may resolve, “a pet dog it is!” to keep Ms Mendiratta’s snide do-something-about-your-paunch-ya kind of remarks in check.

(Cesar’s Way, incidentally, is the official site of dog behaviourist and the host of popular TV show Dog Nation Cesar Millan who has several Hollywood A-listers as his clients.)

So there you are. You are finally on with an acceptable get-rid-of-lard regime; you are happy and plant a kiss on the bulging tummy of model Laughing Buddha on your table and take out your mobile handset to call the nearest pedigree dog breeder.

Stop there.

Did you ever have a dog as your pet? If yes, then go ahead and answer the following questions. If no, please ask a friend who owns a dog and then take a decision on the pet:

What do you like about owning a dog?

Does owning a dog ever cause problems or difficulties?

What are the most/least enjoyable parts about owning a dog?

How would you describe your relationship with your dog?

Does your dog live outside or inside?

Who owns the dog?

Who is responsible for dog duties such as feeding, grooming, exercise?

Would you consider your dog to be a part of the family?

Your answers will determine your relationship with dogs.

Dog walking was constructed as ‘for the dog’; however, owners represented their dog’s needs in a way which aligned with their own.
Dog walking was constructed as ‘for the dog’; however, owners represented their dog’s needs in a way which aligned with their own.
(Photo: iStock)

These questions were a part of a long questionnaire of a University of Liverpool study that concluded people who regularly walk their dogs do it because that’s what makes them happy and not for any health and social benefit. Researchers for the study ‘I Walk My Dog Because It Makes Me Happy: A Qualitative Study to Understand Why Dogs Motivate Walking and Improved Health,’ published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health write –

Dog walking was constructed as ‘for the dog’; however, owners represented their dog’s needs in a way which aligned with their own.

What Kind of a Dog Would Ricky Ponting Own?

Owner-dog relationships have been studied for a long time.

One of the findings has been that most dog owners choose dogs that ‘look’ like them. It is only natural for former Aussie cricket captain Ricky Ponting to have greyhounds as pets. An agile, athletic Ponting will look for a pet that reflects his personality, or, is there more to it?

Psychologists have come up with interesting explanations for this behaviour. Some say it is a case of familiarity.

Often dog owners find comfort in a pet that reminds them of a popular and loveable family member.

For other researchers, this behaviour is much deep seated. It is a remnant from the early days of humans and the way they searched and found mates. Psychologists say humans feel encouraged to date someone who looks like us to find compatible genes. This genetic imprinting can lead us to be partial to anything that looks a bit like us – for instance, a dog.

This only proves that the nearly 30,000-year-old human-dog relationship runs much deeper than just entering into a temporary contract by getting an animal home as a pet.

The Liverpool study points to this deep, nuanced behavioural bond between us and our best friend. Through thousands of years of breeding, we have been able to create dog breeds that are compatible with our own image. This has allowed us to forge an emotional bond of such intensity that often crosses the natural boundaries between Canines and Homo sapiens!

The Liverpool scientists conducted 26 interviews as part of the most in-depth study on how a dog owner perceives dog walking. The people interviewed also wrote in detail their personal experiences of dog walking. The researchers noted in their paper 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.
The factors that motivate dog walking are extremely complex, yet we know they can strongly motivate human health behaviour.
The factors that motivate dog walking are extremely complex, yet we know they can strongly motivate human health behaviour.
(Photo: iStock)
However, ‘happiness’ is “contingent on the owner believing that their dog is enjoying the walk too.” The motivation for walking reduces when the dog-owner perceives a behaviour as ‘laziness,’ ‘slowness due to old age’ in the dog. The researchers also found that “increased physical activity and social interactions with other dog owners were found to be secondary bonuses but were rarely motivating.”

The study was led by Carri Westgarth, a research fellow at the University of Liverpool. According to a Liverpool University report, Westgarth was quoted as saying:

The factors that motivate dog walking are extremely complex, yet we know they can strongly motivate human health behaviour.

According to the researcher, before we promote dog walking as a health activity, it is crucial to understand why owners walk their dogs.

The regular dog walkers may look as fit as their pooches but that is only part of the story. Staying motivated at walking the dog every day, can only happen if both the animal and its human companion feel happy. If you want to kiss your fat goodbye, try other means; stay away from the dog.

So, have we heard the last on dog walking and health benefits?

If we believe in science, then we’re just warming up.

(Debkumar Mitra is a Kolkata-based freelance science writer.)

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