Newswise — Dedicated dog owners log more exercise time than their urban neighbors without pet dogs, according to a study in the February issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"There's this extra dog obligation that helps get people up and out for their exercise," said author Shane Brown, a physical education instructor and researcher at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

Brown and co-author Ryan Rhodes surveyed 177 men and 174 women between age 20 and 80 in Greater Victoria and found that the 70 dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes a week compared to 168 minutes a week for the others.

However, other than walking, dog owners exercised less than non-owners, suggesting that when dog lovers go on walks, they do it partly because they choose to be active with their pets. "A feeling of obligation to the dog explained 11 percent of the variance of getting out there and actually doing the behavior," Brown said.

Women and men spent an equal amount of time walking their dogs. Time spent on strenuous physical activity, either walking or other forms of exercise, was similar for owner and non-owners.

"There's a lot of common sense around the idea that if people have dogs in an urban setting, they're going to walk a lot," said Sylvia Moore, Ph.D., director of the Division of Medical Education and Public Health at the University of Wyoming. Both she and Brown point out that community infrastructure — such as dog-walking parks — may play a role in determining how active pet owners will be.

The main difference between this study and previous research on physical activity and pet ownership is the use of a specific urban sample; previous studies mixed both rural and urban populations.

Despite these results, adopting a pet purely as exercise motivation is not recommended. "We're definitely not saying, 'Everyone go out and get a dog," Brown said. "We are saying that for those of us who have dogs or those who are thinking of getting a dog, this is an added benefit."

Brown, SG, Rhodes RE. Relationships among dog ownership and leisure-time walking among western Canadian adults. Am J Prev Med 30(2), 2006.

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American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Feb-2006)