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BMC Public Health. 2016 Sep 22;16(1):1010.

The association between dog walking, physical activity and owner's perceptions of safety: cross-sectional evidence from the US and Australia.

Author information

1
School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009, Australia. hayley.christian@uwa.edu.au.
2
Telethon Kids Institute, 100 Roberts Road, Subiaco, WA, 6008, Australia. hayley.christian@uwa.edu.au.
3
School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009, Australia.
4
Institute for Health & Ageing, Australian Catholic University, Level 6, 215 Spring St, Melbourne, VIC, 3000, Australia.
5
School of Public Health, Harvard University, 677 Huntington Avenue, Kresge Building 7th Floor, Boston, Massachusetts, 02115, USA.
6
Centre for Child and Adolescent Related Disorders, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA, 6009, Australia.
7
Waltham® Centre for Pet Nutrition, Freeby Lane, Waltham-on-the-Wolds, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, LE14 4RT, UK.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

We examined the relationship between dog walking and physical activity within and between four US cities and Australia and investigated if dog walking is associated with higher perceived safety in US and Australian cities.

METHODS:

Dog owners (n = 1113) in the Pet Connections Study completed a cross-sectional survey. Data were collected across four study sites; three in the US (San Diego, Nashville, Portland) and a fourth in Australia (Perth). Physical activity, local walking, dog walking, and individual and community perceptions of safety were analysed for dog walkers and non-dog walkers for each study site. Between-city comparisons were examined for dog walkers.

RESULTS:

Across all study sites, dog walkers walked with their dog 5-6 times/week for a total of 93-109 min/week and achieved ≥30mins of physical activity on more days/week and walked in their neighbourhood more often/week, compared with non-dog walkers (all p ≤ 0.01). Compared with Perth, significantly fewer dog walkers walked in their local park in the three US study sites. San Diego dog walkers walked more often in their neighborhood/week compared with Perth dog walkers (all p ≤ 0.05). In Portland, dog walkers perceived significantly more neighborhood problems and in Nashville dog walkers perceived a significantly higher level of neighborhood natural surveillance (i.e., 'eyes on the street'), compared with non-dog walkers (both p ≤ 0.05). Among dog walkers, females were more likely than males to feel safer walking with their dog in their neighborhood (OR = 2.49; 95 % CI = 1.76, 3.53). Compared with dog walkers in Perth, dog walkers from each of the US study sites felt safer in their neighborhood and perceived there was more neighborhood surveillance (all p ≤ 0.001).

CONCLUSION:

This multi-site international study provides further support for the potential for dog walking to increase levels of daily physical activity. Walking with a dog may be a mechanism for increasing perceptions of neighborhood safety and getting to know the neighborhood, however significant between-country differences exist. Further international research is required to understand the drivers for these between-country differences. Community based programs and policies aimed at improving safety and social connectedness should consider the wider community benefits of dog walking and include strategies for supporting more dog walking.

KEYWORDS:

Community; Dog; International; Neighborhood; Physical activity; Safety; Walking

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