Objective: To describe the prevalence of dog walking in New South Wales, and to identify potential health gains if more dogs were walked.
Design: Cross-sectional analytical survey.
Setting and participants: 894 adults in NSW in 1998 (among the owners of approximately two million domestic dogs in NSW who were potential participants in dog-walking behaviours).
Interventions: None yet.
Main outcome measures: Dog walking hours per week; other DogEpi concepts to illustrate the public health gains include the DAF (dog attributable fraction), and the BBR (benefits to bites ratio).
Results: The response rate to the survey was 74%. 46% of households in NSW had a dog and, overall, dog owners walked 18 minutes per week more than non-dog owners. However, more than half of dog owners did not walk their dogs, and were less likely than non-owners to meet recommended levels of physical activity sufficient for health benefits. If all dog owners walked their dogs, substantial disease prevention and healthcare cost savings of $175 million per year might accrue.
Conclusions: There are potential benefits of dog walking for human health; currently, among dog owners, much of this benefit remains to be realised. There are also likely benefits for canine health. Dog walking should be promoted through national strategies recommending "Walkies for all by the year 2010".