Dogs are the best. They’re good at cuddling, protecting, greeting you, and taking a lick of your sandwich when you aren’t looking — which… you should be mad about, but I mean, look at that face! And just when you thought our four-legged friends couldn’t get any more lovable, it turns out they’re making us healthier too. According to a study reported on by The New York Times, dog owners seem to be more physically active than non-dog owners. Now, if you’re a dog owner you’re probably thinking, “Duh, I can’t even so much as say ‘walk’ or pick up President Pierce’s leash without him absolutely freaking out thinking we’re going out for his daily walk. Sometimes I spell out the word ‘walk’ and he still gets it. I’m taking like seven walks a day at this point because what am I going to do, disappoint a dog like some kind of monster?” Which, admittedly, is a long thought to have, but is proof that having a pet even makes your mind work harder!
But here’s why this study is still interesting, even if anecdotally you suspected this was the case. While previous research has suggested that dog owners are at least slightly more physically active than those without dogs, those studies were limited in scope. To get a more comprehensive understanding of how pet ownership influences active lifestyles, The University of Liverpool looked to 385 households in West Cheshire UK, and asked 694 participants about their lives and pets, and then monitored the physical activity of a few families.
The researchers chose to focus on a specific community so that those questioned and monitored had similar access to parks, sidewalks, and other exercising amenities. Slightly over half of the participants in the study were women, and participants were mainly middle-aged to older adults, though around 70 children also participated. A third of the participants owned a dog — though the study did not account for differences in pets’ sizes, temperament, or training, and whether those factors affected the dog-owners’ willingness to walk their dogs.
The study found that people who own dogs walked far more than those without dogs — about 200 minutes more on average. According to the questionnaire and activity monitors, most dog owners spent around 300 minutes each week walking compared to their dog-less neighbors, who only racked up an average of 100 minutes per week.
The study further suggested that dog owners, in general, are more active, spending slightly more time doing aerobic exercises like jogging and cycling, or visiting the gym and are four times more likely to meet daily physical activity guidelines. Which means if you’ve been claiming that your pet is getting in the way of your gym time, you’re probably being dishonest with yourself.
Consequently, children who grow up in dog-owning households walk about 100 minutes more each week than kids without dogs, and play with their pets an additional 200 minutes per week, something sad dogless children just don’t get to do. These are all facts we wish we had decades ago when were trying to negotiate our way into getting a puppy. It’s too late for us though. But not for the next generation. The children really are the (dog-filled) future.
All this is great news for dogs and the people who love them, but that doesn’t mean you should go out and get a pup just because you want to shed a few pounds. Speaking to the New York Times about the study, Dr. Carri Westgarth, a lecturer in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool and study leader cautioned:
“A dog is not a tool just to make us more physically active… but if you feel that you have the time, inclination and finances to take on the responsibility of having a dog, they are a great motivator to get out walking when you otherwise would have made excuses not to.”
So while owning a dog is much more likely to lead you to a more active lifestyle, it isn’t a guarantee. And you should never adopt an animal that you don’t have the time or resources to care for. But if you were on the dog versus cat fence, this might be one in the dog team’s favor.