The relationship between dog ownership and physical activity

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[Truncated abstract] The Dogs and Physical Activity (DAPA) study sought to examine the relationship between dog ownership and physical activity, in particular walking. It used an ecological model to examine the socio-demographic, intrapersonal, social environmental, physical environmental and policy-related factors affecting dog owners walking with their dog. Results from this study are presented as a series of papers four which are published, in press or accepted for publication. A review of the dog ownership, health and physical activity literature and results from qualitative research of the potential barriers and motivators to dog owners being physically active with their dogs were used to develop and test an instrument for measuring dog walking behaviour. The DAPA tool was designed to measure the amount of physical activity people undertake with their dog and dog-specific individual and environmental factors affecting people walking with their dog. It was developed as a supplementary tool for the second RESIDential Environments (RESIDE) survey. RESIDE is a 5-year longitudinal study of the physical activity levels of people building homes in new housing estates in Western Australia. Findings from the baseline survey of 1813 RESIDE participants (44% dog owners) showed that dog owners were 60% more likely than non-owners to achieve sufficient physical activity and sufficient walking and almost 80% more likely than non-owners to achieve sufficient walking for recreation in the neighbourhood after controlling for demographic, intrapersonal and environmental differences. ... Findings from the DAPA study highlight the importance of the local policy and physical environment in encouraging dog walking behaviour. Perceived lack of accessible public open space (POS) and dogspecific exercise areas were identified by focus group participants as major barriers to dog owners walking with their dog. Objective measurement of the local physical environment of dog owners supported their concerns; no dog owners in this study had access to a sign-posted off-leash park [greater than or equal to] 2 acres within their neighbourhood. Furthermore, access to local POS with dog-supportive infrastructure was associated with being a regular dog walker. Overall, the results of this study draw attention to the needs of dog owners in the allocation and design of POS. The prospective component of the DAPA study enabled examination of the causal relationship between dog ownership and physical activity. After adjusting for baseline variables, dog acquisition significantly increased minutes of recreational walking within the neighbourhood by 37 minutes. However, after further adjustment for changes in baseline variables, the increase in minutes of recreational walking within the neighbourhood from dog acquisition reduced to 21 minutes and was no longer statistically significant. Increase in intention to walk appeared to mediate the relationship between dog acquisition and increased recreational walking. This study highlights a number of important physical activity benefits associated with dog ownership and provides evidence to suggest that dog walking has the potential to positively affect the proportion of the community who are sufficiently active.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
StateUnpublished - 2007


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