Dog walking is a popular everyday physical activity. Dog owners are generally more active than non-owners, but some rarely walk with their dog. The strength of the dog-owner relationship is known to be correlated with dog walking, and this qualitative study investigates why. Twenty-six interviews were combined with autoethnography of dog walking experiences. Dog walking was constructed as "for the dog", however, owners represented their dog's needs in a way which aligned with their own. Central to the construction of need was perceptions of dog personality and behaviour. Owners reported deriving positive outcomes from dog walking, most notably, feelings of "happiness", but these were "contingent" on the perception that their dogs were enjoying the experience. Owner physical activity and social interaction were secondary bonuses but rarely motivating. Perceptions and beliefs of owners about dog walking were continually negotiated, depending on how the needs of the owner and dog were constructed at that time. Complex social interactions with the "significant other" of a pet can strongly motivate human health behaviour. Potential interventions to promote dog walking need to account for this complexity and the effect of the dog-owner relationship on owner mental wellbeing.
Keywords: animals; dogs; exercise; happiness; health behaviour; human-animal interaction; physical activity; qualitative research; walking.