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The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for Pets and People: Evidence and Case Studies

Rebecca A. Johnson
Alan M. Beck
Sandra McCune
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    The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for Pets and People
    Book Description:

    Obesity is at epidemic levels worldwide. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that by 2018 the cost of treating weight-related illnesses will double to almost $350 billion a year. A 2010 report by the U.S. Surgeon General estimates that two-thirds of American adults and almost one in three children are now overweight or obese. Similar statistics emphasize the staggering problem in other industrialized countries. This volume originated in a special 2009 symposium funded in part by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) and sponsorship from Mars-Waltham© on how human-animal interaction may help fight obesity across the lifespan. It provides systematic presentation of the scientific evidence for this powerful expression of the benefits of the human-animal bond. The volume will be especially valuable as a sourcebook of evidence-based studies for public health professionals treating overweight humans and veterinarians treating obese dogs.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-190-5
    Subjects: Public Health

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Rebecca A. Johnson

    Given that the obesity and obesity-related disease epidemic continues to rage in the United States and in other industrialized countries, there exists a need to develop and examine innovative approaches to its reversal and to facilitate health and fitness. Dog walking, found to positively influence physical activity, was a focus of the symposium from which the compilation of papers presented in this volume emanated. The one-day symposium was embedded in the peer-reviewed 2009 18th Annual Conference of the International Society for Anthrozoology, which was held in Kansas City, Missouri. The symposium was entitled, “Research meets practice: Human-animal interaction in obesity...

  2. Chapter 1 Dog walking as a new area of inquiry: An overview
    (pp. 1-6)
    Alan M. Beck

    E. O. Wilson suggested that throughout most of human evolution survival favored those with an ability to hunt animals and find edible plants. This innate “hard-wiring” gave us a predisposition to pay special attention to animals and the surrounding environment. He named this “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” the biophilia hypothesis (Wilson, 1993). It is reasonable to assume part of our fascination with our pets, and our desire to be with them, stems from this inborn love of life, our biophilia.

    In addition, like any social species, we are especially driven to be with our own...

  3. Chapter 2 Physical activity recommendations and dog walking
    (pp. 7-24)
    Jacqueline N. Epping

    The health benefits of physical activity are numerous, significant, and well documented. People who are regularly physically active have better health and a lower risk of developing a variety of chronic diseases than people who are inactive. More active adults have lower rates of all-cause mortality, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, breast cancer, and depression. Additionally, compared with less active people, physically active adults have higher levels of cardiorespiratory (aerobic) and muscular fitness, more favorable body composition and body mass, better quality sleep, and better health-related quality of life for older...

  4. Chapter 3 International perspectives on the epidemiology of dog walking
    (pp. 25-50)
    Adrian Bauman, Hayley E. Christian, Roland J. Thorpe Jr. and Rona Macniven

    Physical activity promotes and improves human health. Despite this, many populations remain physically inactive, with limited or no changes in activity patterns over recent decades. One possible solution is to encourage dog walking, with high rates of dog ownership in many countries. This chapter describes the potential for dog walking to improve human health, through improvements in physical activity.

    Regular moderate-intensity physical activity is an important contributor to overall population health. In particular, the best available epidemiological evidence suggests that accumulating at least 30 minutes each day of moderate-intensity physical activity can contribute to a range of health benefits, particularly...

  5. Chapter 4 Dog walking as a catalyst for strengthening the social fabric of the community
    (pp. 51-74)
    Lisa L. Wood and Hayley E. Christian

    Dogs and other pets are often widely regarded by their owners as social companions, and there is now considerable research documenting the role companion animals can play in providing companionship, social support, and alleviation of loneliness (Beck & Katcher, 2003; Katcher & Beck, 1983). While companionship and social support do appear in some of the dog walking research, this is primarily in reference to the role of dogs themselves in providing company and a motivation for their owners to walk (Cutt, Giles-Corti, Knuiman, & Burke, 2007). The focus of this chapter is the contribution dogs make to the broader social fabric of a...

  6. Chapter 5 Dog walking as physical activity for older adults
    (pp. 75-88)
    Roland J. Thorpe Jr., Hayley E. Christian and Adrian Bauman

    Over the past two decades there has been an increasing interest in understanding the role of pets in the lives of older adults. There is a body of evidence suggesting that pets may improve psychological, social, and physical health of persons of all ages (Boldt & Dellmann-Jenkins, 1992). These health effects include conditions that have an increased prevalence among older adults (ages 65 and older) such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, and disability. Therefore, older adults might specifically benefit from companion animals (Berkman et al., 1986; Boldt & Dellmann-Jenkins, 1992; Branch & Jette, 1981; Estes, 1969; Jette & Branch, 1981; Murrell, Himmelfarb, & Wright, 1983). According...

  7. Chapter 6 “Walk a hound, lose a pound”: A community dog walking program for families
    (pp. 89-104)
    Rebecca A. Johnson and Charlotte A. McKenney

    It is estimated that obesity and overweight-attributable illness cost $1.6 billion in medical expenditures in the state of Missouri alone between 1998 and 2000 (Finkelstein et al., 2004). Similar trends have been noted in the rest of the U.S. and other industrialized nations. Rising rates of obesity have been linked with the problem of limited physical activity (PA). Obesity is a key component of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to several chronic illnesses (including diabetes) and also to decline in physical functioning. These are major problems as people age, because accrual of obesity-related illnesses occurs to the point that by the...

  8. Chapter 7 Method development and preliminary examination of dog walking as a form of human and canine physical activity
    (pp. 105-124)
    Barbour S. Warren, Joseph J. Wakshlag, Mary Maley, Tracy Farrell, Martin T. Wells, Angela M. Struble, Carol M. Devine and Grace Long

    Physical activity on a regular basis has been well documented to play an important role in weight control (Flegal Carroll, Ogden, & Curtin, 2010). Plus, there are numerous other health benefits that have been associated with regular physical activity. These include decreases in the risk of: heart disease, various types of cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and arthritis (Ogden, Yanovski, Carroll, & Flegal, 2007). In spite of these positive effects of physical activity, the most recent examinations have shown that 64% of Americans do not engage in the recommended levels of physical activity (Sapkota, Bowles, Ham, & Kohl, 2005). Worse yet, about 24% of the...

  9. Chapter 8 Dog obesity, dog walking, and dog health
    (pp. 125-146)
    Karyl J. Hurley, Denise A. Elliott and Elizabeth Lund

    Other chapters in this volume focus on the benefits of dog walking for people; however, clearly there are also shared benefits and risks for dogs. Depending on their size, breed, and temperament, some dogs need more exercise than others to maintain their fitness level, keep them from becoming bored and destructive, and, perhaps most importantly, to provide mental stimulation, socialization, and simply entertainment (Defra, 2009). As reported by Chauvet, exercise can also significantly increase the rate of weight loss in overweight or obese pets (Chauvet, Laclai, Elliott, & German, 2010). However, whether you are walking with a shelter dog or your...

  10. Chapter 9 Owners and pets exercising together: The metabolic benefits of “walking the dog”
    (pp. 147-162)
    Mark B. Stephens, Cindy C. Wilson, Jeffrey L. Goodie, F. Ellen Netting, Cara Olsen, Christopher G. Byers and Mary E. Yonemura

    Two out of every three American adults are either overweight or obese (Flegal, 2010). Studies indicate the trend of increasing obesity in United States adults began sometime after the Civil War and has accelerated in recent decades before stabilizing in the past several years (Flegal, 2010; Costa, 1997). In the U.S., the trend of rising obesity is not limited to adults. The number of obese children has risen more than threefold in the past several decades as well (Ogden, 2008). In fact, it is predicted that if current trends of overweight continue, for the first time in modern history the...

  11. Chapter 10 Kids and K-9s for healthy choices: A pilot program for canine therapy and healthy behavior modification to increase healthy lifestyle choices in children
    (pp. 163-180)
    Kathy K. Wright and Ashley M. Brown

    The prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity in the United States continues to grow to epidemic levels, resulting in a great need for effective health promotion and education programs. It has been shown that promoting and establishing healthy behaviors in children is more effective than efforts to modify unhealthy behaviors in adults (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). Health education programs help to address several risk behaviors, such as physical inactivity and unhealthy eating, which are established during childhood and which contribute to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems in our country (National Center for Chronic...

  12. Chapter 11 Future directions in dog walking
    (pp. 181-192)
    Rebecca A. Johnson, Alan M. Beck, Sandra McCune, James A. Griffin and Layla Esposito

    The goal of this chapter is to synthesize what has been presented in the preceding chapters and to pose new directions for the dog walking field. After an overarching discussion of the benefits of dog walking, we challenge investigators to push research in this area to new heights, perhaps leading the rest of the human-animal interaction (HAI) field in similar directions.

    Physical activity (PA) has well documented benefits, but most of the world fails to meet recommended guidelines for PA (Bauman, chapter 3, this volume). Physical inactivity is not limited to wealthier developed nations, but increasingly is being recognized as...