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Background: Despite immense benefits of physical activity on health and developmental outcomes, few children achieve recommended daily levels of physical activity. Given more than half of families with children own a dog, we investigated the effect of a mobile health (mHealth) intervention to encourage dog-facilitated physical activity through increased family dog walking and children’s active play with their dog. Methods: The PLAYCE PAWS study was a three-armed randomised pilot trial conducted in Perth, Western Australia. Children aged 5-10 years with a family dog were randomised to 4 weeks of either 1) SMS-only intervention, 2) ‘SMS + pedometer’ intervention or 3) ‘usual care’ control. The mHealth intervention involved SMS messages to parents; the ‘SMS + pedometer’ group also received a dog pedometer and personalised dog steps diary. Parent-reported measures were collected at baseline, 1- and 3-months post intervention. The primary outcome was weekly frequency of family dog walking and dog play; secondary outcomes were child attachment to the dog and feasibility of the intervention. Results: A total of 150 children were randomised in staggered blocks to SMS-only (n = 50), ‘SMS + pedometer’ (n = 50) or usual care (n = 50). No differences were observed in family dog walking and dog play at 1-month. SMS-only children (OR 2.6, 95% CI 1.17, 5.83, P = 0.019) and all intervention children (OR 1.97, 95% CI 1.01, 3.86, P = 0.048) were more likely to increase total dog-facilitated physical activity (sum of family dog walking and dog play responses) at 3-months. The positive associations with total dog-facilitated physical activity disappeared (all P > 0.05) after adjusting for socio-demographic factors. Conclusions: The PLAYCE PAWS mHealth intervention did not significantly affect dog-facilitated physical activity in children. Given high levels of dog ownership in the community, SMS prompts could be a low-cost intervention to encourage more physical activity in children. Further research is needed to understand how increased interaction with the family dog impacts on children’s overall physical activity and other health and development outcomes. Trial registration: ANZCTR, ACTRN12620000288921, retrospectively registered on 4/3/2020.
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