The health benefits of dog walking - a scientific study & opinion
It should come as no surprise to people, that people who are more active, are likely to be healthier. The question often then comes to motivation and time.
This dog walking study didn't cover these issues that well, so that is why I as a dog walker am here to give you some useful insight into how to make it happen. In the meantime you may be impressed to know that the study found that people who owned and walked their dogs were 34 percent more likely to meet federal (US) benchmarks on physical activity.
Before the insight, I will firstly look at the 2011 study and their results.
The study aimed to describe the characteristics of people who walk their dog, and assess the impact on leisure-time physical activity (LTPA). Information was collected via a 2005 Michigan Behavioural Risk Factor Survey. Questions were asked on dog ownership, dog walking patterns, total walking activity and LTPA was assessed.
The dog walk study results:
Of the 5902 respondents:
- 41% owned a dog, and of these, 61% walked their dog for at least 10 minutes at a time.
- However, only 27% walked their dog at least 150 minutes per week.
The study found that dog walking was associated with a significant increase in walking activity and LTPA.
Compared with non-dog owners, the chance of getting at least 150 minutes per week of total walking were 34% higher for dog walkers.
The reality of what this means for your dog
Ok, it is great that people were walking their dog and that it showed that dog walking can be a great healthy substitute for other forms of activity (such as TV watching)..
However taking on the dog's side of things, TEN minute walks are absolutely ridiculous. A ten minute walk is usually performed on lead by someone who wants the dog to defecate outside of their yard. It is incredibly invalid as a form of mental or physical stimulation and definitely restricts any meaningful free socialisation of the dog.
It is great that the study found that "There appears to be a strong link between owning and walking a dog and achieving higher levels of physical activity, even after accounting for the actual dog walking."
However even the big claim for 150 minutes per week is dubious value for dogs.
Most dog behaviour experts agree a dog needs a daily minimum of between 45 minutes and 1 and a half hours of off-lead time.
If you were to walk a dog off lead for 45 minutes per day over seven days that would be 315 minutes (or double what their benchmark of 150 minutes was showing). This either means that the best group of people walking their dog probably took their dog out three times at the minimum rate of 45 minutes, or took them out seven times at 20 minutes. Either of these situations is not ideal.
However given the choice it would be preferable for a dog to socialise off lead 3 to 4 times per week at a 45 minute session than anything else on offer.
Dog Walking Off Lead benefits
Dogs like people take a certain amount of time to work into an exercise and for their metabolism to fire. While dogs in the wild will hunt for hours at a time, A domestic dog typically gets motivated to run hard on an off lead walk, if there is another dog available to play, that it wants to play with.
If you walk in a park on lead, your dog may smell some smells but will not be mentally challenged as it would in following a scent free from a leash.
Many people consider going to a dog park as socialisation for themselves, but unless they are walking in a determined pattern such as a loop of an oval, they nor the dog will get sufficient exercise. Forty five minutes spent in one spot is not doing a lot of good for either dog or person. And the dog is unlikely to encounter any new smells to catalog in its brain and so will lack much of the mental stimulation that a 45 minute directed off lead walk can give.
This study did not account for seasonal changes or inclement weather. If you are a regular dog park visitor, you will notice that when the weather turns warm, cold or rainy that there are a lot less dogs and people out. The dog would generally rather visit a park and get its exercise and simulation hunt, than miss out because the owner is looking after their own comfort or wants more sleep in cold winter mornings. Even if your dog seems to not like the idea of going outside when it is wet, too bad, they need daily exercise and living with humans has turned a lot of dogs 'soft'.
This article may not make sense to a lot of people and a lot of people may already be doing the defined daily minimum, and mixing up their parks for variety. But the vast majority of dog owners do not provide dogs with the bear minimum physical and mental stimulation they need via off lead walks.
Dare I say it, if you don't have the time or motivation, this is where a hired professional dog walker comes in. Get your dog healthy now, and save on bills and heart ache later.
Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please use a LINK reference to http://www.dogwalkersmelbourne.com.au
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The Impact of Dog Walking on Leisure-Time Physical Activity: Results From a Population-Based Survey of Michigan Adults. Mathew J. Reeves, Ann P. Rafferty, Corinne E. Miller, Sarah K. Lyon-Callo.