Dog ownership, walking behavior, and maintained mobility in late life

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006 Sep;54(9):1419-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2006.00856.x.


Objectives: To examine dog walking among dog owners and the relationship between walking behavior of dog owners and non-dog owners and maintained gait speed over 3 years.

Design: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of a prospective cohort study.

Setting: Memphis, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Participants: Two thousand five hundred thirty-three community-dwelling adults aged 71 to 82 at 36 months of the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study.

Measurements: Dog ownership, reported walking behavior, change in walking behavior, and usual and rapid gait speed over 3 years.

Results: Of 394 dog owners, only 36% walked their dogs at least three times per week. Cross-sectionally, dog walkers were more likely to achieve 150 minutes of walking per week and had faster usual and rapid walking speeds (1.20 vs 1.14 m/s and 1.62 vs 1.52 m/s, respectively; P < .01 for both) than non-dog owners who did not walk at least three times per week and similar speeds as non-dog owners who walked at least 150 minutes per week (P > .50). Three years later, subjects who had been dog walkers at baseline were approximately twice as likely as any other group to achieve recommended walking levels, independent of covariates. Dog walkers experienced similar declines in usual and rapid walking speed as non-dog owners who walked at least three times per week but maintained their initial mobility advantage.

Conclusion: Although dog ownership appears to facilitate walking behavior, only a minority of older dog owners walk their dogs. The mobility advantage of dog ownership was seen only in dog walkers and was similar to that associated with any walking. Given suboptimal walking activity in older adults, examining the degree to which dog ownership promotes walking activity in persons who do little walking on their own appears worth pursuing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged / physiology*
  • Aged / psychology*
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dogs*
  • Female
  • Gait
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mobility Limitation
  • Ownership*
  • Walking / physiology*