Walking your dog will not make you fitter, but it will give your child a healthier start

Scientists have been very curious about the relationship between dog owners, physical activity, and health. According to studies, dog owners are 34% more likely than non-owners to meet the World Health Organisation’s 150 minute exercise guideline per week and 69% more inclined to engage in any form of physical activity. In 2017, the results of a 12-year study on nearly 3.5m Swedish people found that having a dog reduced mortality risk by 33% if you lived alone and by 10-15% in multi-person households. In addition, dog ownership was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease for those living alone and a lower mortality rate across the population.

Dog walking does not appear to have the same benefits when it comes to children. In our study, we found that children who walk or live with dogs are not fitter than those who don’t. Our study concluded that the level or intensity of exercise during dog walking is not enough to promote fitness among children.


Why then encourage children to take their dog for a walk and give them some exercise if it seems there will be no immediate benefit? Although it may be hard to change your fitness, what is more important is that if you take on a new hobby or activity, you will adopt positive health behaviors. The key challenge in promoting physical activities for people of all ages is to change dominant inactive behaviors, such as sitting down, watching TV, or choosing motorised transport over active modes of transportation. Ownership of a dog comes with certain responsibilities, such as exercising regularly. Dogs are creatures of habit, just like humans. Regular dog walking encourages owners and their dogs to be active.

Dog training can affect not only the dog, but also humans. When the leash is out, the dog will “expect” to be taken for a walk. The daily walk that results from the repetition of this behavior is healthy for both owner and dog. There are also psychosocial factors, in addition to behavior change, that influence the frequency of walking dogs. A pet can be a powerful motivator of feelings and promote a balanced, happy and fulfilled lifestyle.

Even with these benefits for the mind, a leisurely walk with a pet is not enough to improve human health. That is why our group of researchers decided to examine both the duration and intensity of walks, as well as their impact on fitness in children.

Rex on a hike. Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock

Leading the way

Children and Pets Exercising Together combines data from the Liverpool Sportslinx Study – a study that involved 80,000 youths over 16 years of age – and more than 50 measures we collected of children between the ages of nine and twelve. We also sent questionnaires to investigate the relationship between these measures and dog ownership.

Between 20% and 40%, we found, was spent on moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by adults and children walking a dog. Research has shown that, in terms of frequency of walking with a dog per week, people walk far less than expected. The median is only 4 times per week. Our study found that 1 in 7 children walked with their dog several times per week, but the total amount of walking time was not different from children who didn’t walk dogs. Walking intensity was higher with a pet than without.

However, there are other factors that can be at play. Breed of dog seems to affect the intensity of walking – active breeds such as collies, greyhounds and spaniels help increase pace. The relationship between the dog and its owner is also important. The dog’s living situation in a household with only one person can also affect the intensity of walking. Dog owners who live alone with their dog are responsible for the exercise of the animal and are therefore more active.

Walking with a pet is a healthy habit, even though we did not find any evidence that kids who walk or live with dogs are more fit or less obese. Although dog walking will not drastically change your fitness, if you own a pet, you’re more likely to go for walks yourself. This is good news for the health of humans.

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