Owning a dog and going on regular dog walks bothhave proven health benefits. But a new studysuggests that no matter how many times you hearthat pounding the pavement with your pup is goodexercise, that’s ultimately not what gets you (andyour four-legged friend) up and moving.
According to research published in the InternationalJournal of Environmental Research and Public Health, dog owners are motivated to walk their pets because it makes them happy—not for health orsocial reasons. Also up there on the list of reasons? They think it makes their dogs happy, too.
The study analyzed interviews and personal written reflections from 26 people about why, exactly, they walk their dogs. While many owners said they do it to benefit their pooch, theresearchers say the importance of the owners’ happiness and well-being was also clear.
But that happiness depends on the owner believing that the dog is enjoying the walk, theresearchers noted in their paper. Motivation to walk was decreased when owners had reason todoubt this notion—like when they felt their dog was misbehaving, “lazy,” or “too old” to walkregularly.
The study mainly suggests that dog owners keep doing what they’re doing, since they can stillrack up the health benefits of dog-walking even if that's not the primary goal.
But it does make the case that health advocates might want to tweak their message whenpromoting dog-walking in order to appeal to more people. (Dog owners are generally morephysically active than non-owners, the authors say, but some rarely walk their dogs at all.)
Lead author Carri Westgarth, PhD, a research fellow at the University of Liverpool, says shehopes these findings resonate with dog owners and animal lovers. “Dog walking can be reallyimportant for our mental health, and there is no joy like seeing your dog having a good time,” she says. “In this age of information and work overload, let’s thank our dogs for—in the main—being such a positive influence on our well-being.”