Dr. Becofsky might have been disappointed with the results, she says, but suspects that one factor was that the program collided with a particularly intractable East Coast obstacle: the weather. The study took place during a prolonged period of rain and cold in the area, she says, so the increase in participants’ dog-walking time, while small, was notable.
More important, she says, most of the class participants reported feeling closer to their dogs and happier with their behavior afterward.
“We know from other research that the best predictor of dog walking is feeling a strong bond with your dog,” she says.
She plans to conduct a larger study, she says, again featuring obedience classes but this time being open about the program’s intent to increase owners’ physical activity. She’s also planning separately to study dogs’ self-chosen movement patterns, on a leash and off, using activity monitors made for dogs.
“Dog walking has so much potential to inspire more physical activity,” she says.
That possibility extends even to people who do not own dogs, according to the other new study, which looked at dogs and pedestrianism. Also presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting, it involved college students, a group notorious for their inactivity. Many collegians exercise seldom, if ever, studies show, often blaming time constraints and academic demands.
To bypass those barriers, researchers at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., created a for-credit physical education class centered on dog walking. Students who enrolled in the class visited the local animal shelter twice a week for 50 minutes and walked one of the shelter dogs in a nearby park while wearing a pedometer.
The gadgets’ data showed that the students were averaging around 4,500 steps, or about two and a quarter miles of walking, during each session with a dog.