Dog Walking, the Human-Animal Bond and Older Adults' Physical Health

Gerontologist. 2017 Oct 1;57(5):930-939. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnw051.


Purpose of the study: This study explored the associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults.

Design and methods: We used data from the 12th wave (2012) of the Health and Retirement Study which included an experimental human-animal interaction module. Ordinary least squares regression and binary logistic regression models controlling for demographic variables were used to answer the research questions.

Results: Dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise. People with higher degrees of pet bonding were more likely to walk their dog and to spend more time walking their dog each time, but they reported walking a shorter distance with their dog than those with weaker pet bonds. Dog ownership was not associated with better physical health or health behaviors.

Implications: This study provides evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health using a large, nationally representative sample. The relationship with one's dog may be a positive influence on physical activity for older adults.

Keywords: Dog walking; Exercise/physical activity; Function/mobility; Pets; Preventative medicine/care/services; Recreational therapy/activities.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Human-Animal Bond*
  • Humans
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Linear Models
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership*
  • Walking*