Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of preventable diseases in humans. Besides physical health, outdoor walking has multiple mental health benefits and offers opportunities for health-enhancing social interactions. In Australia, 40% of households own a dog, yet 41% of dog owners do not walk their dogs. Adequate physical activity (PA) and frequent exposure to outdoor stimuli is also crucial for canine wellbeing. This ‘overlapping’ need for PA in dogs and humans presents a unique, yet largely underutilized, opportunity for interventions that benefit both species. Despite popular perception that dog ownership leads to more PA in humans, objective empirical evidence is lacking. Very few controlled studies have tested dog-walking promoting strategies for increasing PA and reducing sedentary time. Commercially available wearable dog activity trackers are now available at a modest cost. Such devices interact with the user and are particularly promising for goal-setting and behavioral monitoring that are essential strategies in successful dog-walking pilot studies. Yet, there is no research on the effectiveness of such devices in terms of increasing human PA reducing sedentary behavior (SB), improving psychosocial health, and improving the dog-human relationship and dog wellbeing.
The main objective will be to examine the effectiveness of a technology-based dog-walking intervention for increasing daily PA of the owners. The intervention is based on behavior change theory and a commercially available wearable dog activity tracker (primary outcome: daily number of steps). The secondary objectives will be to examine if intervention-induced increases in PA are accompanied by improvements in SB and psychosocial health of owners (secondary outcomes: SB time, psychological distress, loneliness, positive affect, dog-ownership attributed social connections, dog-owner relationship), and frequency of canine behavioral problems.
An intervention that uses a commercially available dog activity tracker and educational materials is more effective in increasing physical activity of recent dog owners than a) an intervention that uses dog-walking educational materials alone, and b) than no intervention. Secondary hypothesis: dog walking intervention-attributed increases in physical activity are associated with improvements in psychosocial health of the owners, better dog-owner relationships, and fewer canine behavioral problems.
Using an open parallel 2-arm RCT design, researchers propose to recruit 80 prospective dog owners from the community who will acquire a dog within a month from study enrollment and will be randomly allocated to receive a) a 3-month dog activity tracker–based intervention based on multi-process action control and nascent dog-walking theory (goal-setting/coping strategies/behavior monitoring )plus dog-walking education materials; or b) dog-walking education materials only. The proposed 2-arm RCT will be attached to the ongoing fully funded and resourced observational PAWS trial (the Physical and Affective Wellbeing Study of dog owners) that examines the effects of acquiring a dog on physical activity and psychosocial health.
The researchers expect that both dog-walking interventions will lead to larger increases in daily PA compared to no intervention; and that the technology-based intervention will lead to larger increases in daily PA compared to the education only intervention. They also expect that PAWalks will provide invaluable lessons on the short and long-term feasibility of using dog wearable trackers and will help optimize future dog walking interventions.