Owning a pet dog could potentially improve child health through encouraging participation in physical activity, through dog walking. However, evidence to support this is limited and conflicting. In particular, little is known about children’s participation in dog walking and factors that may be associated with this. The objective of this study was to describe the participation of children in dog walking, including their own and those belonging to somebody else, and investigate factors associated with regular walking with their own pet dog.
Primary school children (n=1021, 9–10 years) from a deprived area of Liverpool were surveyed during a ‘fitness fun day’ as part of the SportsLinx project. The ‘Child Lifestyle and Pets’ survey included questions about pet ownership, pet attachment, and dog walking. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to investigate factors associated with walking any dog, or their own dog, several times a day or more, including level of attachment to the dog, dog type, and sociodemographic factors.
Overall, 15.4% of children reported walking with any dog (their own or belonging to a friend or family member) ≥ once daily, 14.1% several times a week, 27.6% ≤ once a week, and 42.8% never. Dog owning children (37.1% of the population) more often reported dog walking ‘several times a week or more’ (OR=12.30, 95% CI=8.10-18.69, P<0.001) compared to those without a dog, but were less likely to report other walking without a dog. The majority (59.3%) of dog owning children indicated that they usually walked their dog, with 34.6% reporting that they walked their dog ≥ once daily. Attachment score was highly associated with the child reporting walking their dog (lower score=higher attachment; OR=0.93, 95% CI=0.89-0.96, P<0.001). There was no evidence that gender, ethnicity, sibling status or deprivation score was associated with dog walking. Children that reported owning Pit Bulls were more likely to report friends walking with their dog than those owning non-Pit bull types (OR=10.01, 95% CI=1.52-65.76, P=0.02, respectively).
Promotion of supervised walking of suitable pet dogs may be an opportunity for increasing physical activity in 9–10 year old children. The identification of stronger attachment to dogs regularly walked is similar to findings in adult studies.