Dog Walking and Physical Health: An Interview with Dr. Libby Richards
Looking for an excited workout buddy? Then there is no need to look further than your pet dog. It is a win-win situation for both dog and owner in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and simply involves a walk around the block. It is a quick and easy way to get active and one would be hard pressed to find a more excited workout partner.
However, according to recent statistics, nearly 80% of dog owners do not regularly walk their dog. The U.S. government recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, in as little as 10 minute bursts of activity. Recent research further supports that just ten minutes of daily exercise can have health benefits for humans.
Dr. Libby Richards is one such researcher. Currently, she is a Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Nursing at Purdue University. She received her PhD from Purdue in Health Promotions, with a specific focus in physical activity promotion. When she sat down for this interview, she described how, in recent years, there has been a push to get people moving and engaging in healthy activities. Specifically, there has been a focus on promoting daily lifestyle activities; such as walking, household chores, and taking the stairs.
Research pertaining to the benefits of dog walking has grown in the last five or six years, and Dr. Richards was drawn to the research while pursuing her PhD in Health Promotions. In her dissertation work, she developed and tested the Dogs and Walking Survey (DAWGS) which assess individual and interpersonal factors related to dog walking behaviors. She is currently using her findings from the survey to develop an intervention to promote dog walking.
Her latest research involved a sample group of Purdue faculty, staff, and graduate students who volunteered to wear an activity monitor for one week. With the monitor she tracked their physical movements, and was able to show that dog owners were getting a legitimate amount of physical activity while walking their dog. She says that dog walking has recently been considered in more lifestyle promotions due to the health benefits involved and the millions of dog owners out there. There is a hope that this will lead to a healthy lifestyle movement on a national level.
Dr. Richards said that an overwhelming number of dog owners report walking their dog for the benefit of the dog, and tend to forget there are benefits for humans as well. Whether it is for the dog’s health, happiness, behavior, or motivation there is a sense of necessity and obligation toward the dog. Which of course is great! However, research shows there is clear health benefits for both the human and dog and should be considered in one’s daily activities.
So why not walk your dog? As Dr. Richards says, it is hard to say no when you have an excited workout buddy who is ready at any time and willing to work with your schedule. All it involves is walking out the front door. As said earlier, it’s a win-win situation.
Dr. Richards is currently seeking funding to conduct a study involving people who own dogs, but are not frequent dog walkers. The hope is to educate people on the healthy benefits of dog walking and engage them in a three month program that results in the formation of a dog walking habit. Furthermore, she wishes to study the high level attachment people have for their dogs and identify if walking one’s dog can strengthen that already strong bond.
She herself, is a dog owner, with Emma and Echo, and engages them in consistent physical activity. She mentions they are conditioned to go walking and their excitement at the sound of a jingling leash makes it hard not to go on a quick ten minute loop.