Dog walking's link to wellbeing studied

By Vaughan Elder

University of Otago School of Physiotherapy associate dean Dr Cath Smith walking her dog Ellie. Photo / Peter McIntosh
University of Otago School of Physiotherapy associate dean Dr Cath Smith walking her dog Ellie. Photo / Peter McIntosh

University of Otago researchers are pounding the pavement with dog-owners to discover how taking a walk with man's best friend affects a person's wellbeing.

The study, by honours student Carla Cameron and School of Physiotherapy associate dean Dr Cath Smith, aimed to find out whether using "mobile methods" - which in this case meant recording interviews and filming while participants were walking or running their dogs - was a feasible way of capturing data.

Dr Smith said the benefits of dog walking went beyond just getting exercise, with dog walkers also gaining from the companionship having a dog brought and from interacting with other owners while out on walks.

The "mobile method" of capturing data being used in the study gave more information than could be gleaned from traditional methods such as surveying or interviewing people.

A researcher going along with someone walking their dog could capture interactions between the owner and the dog and interactions with other dog owners.

"It can really capture that social aspect of dog walking," she said.

It could also pick up on how stressful it was for owners when dogs were misbehaving or having scraps with other dogs.

The participants in the study in this study were healthy adults, but once it was completed the researchers hoped to use the perfected "mobile methods" to look at how dog walking could benefit people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

The study came amid growing interest in the health literature about the benefits of having dogs, whether that be highly trained mobility dogs for people with disabilities or just your everyday canine, she said.

The researchers had worked with nine female dog owners, but were keen to get a few male volunteers to check if there was any difference between the sexes when it came to what they got out of walking their dogs.

- Otago Daily Times

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