Walking your dog for the joy of it

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Here's what really motivates dog owners to grab the leash.

Photo: Chalabala/iStock

Like many dog owners, I’m walked regularly by my best four-legged friend. I know that, in addition to meeting my dog’s needs, walking is good for my health. But research suggests that I’m just as likely to be motivated by the boost it gives my happiness.

To tap into the joyful side of dog walking, ask yourself: If I were trying to encourage friends to take their dog for a walk, what would I say?

Emotional heeling

In one study, researchers at the University of Liverpool asked 26 dog owners to reflect on their dog-walking experiences in interviews and diaries. While the dog owners often said the walks were for the benefit of their pets, it was clear that improvement in their own happiness and well-being was an important motivator.

This mood lift was contingent on believing that their dogs were enjoying the walk, too. When people saw their dogs as being too old, “lazy,” or poorly behaved, it reduced their motivation to walk. But for those whose dogs enjoyed the experience, the benefits were undeniable.

“It’s clear from our findings that dog walking is used to meet the emotional needs of the owner as well as the needs of the dog,” the study’s lead author, Carri Westgarth, Ph.D., said in a statement about the research. Bottom line: One major reason we grab the leash is because we're likely to be in a better mood afterward.

About the author

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a freelance health and psychology writer.

Key reference

Westgarth, C., Christley, R., Marvin, G., & Perkins, E. (2017). I Walk My Dog Because It Makes Me Happy: A Qualitative Study to Understand Why Dogs Motivate Walking and Improved Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(8), 936. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080936