We all know that our dogs need walks. They need exercise, as well as mental stimulation, to be content and stable. Of course, it doesn’t hurt us to get some outdoor physical exercise, as well. So every day, we leash our dogs up and hit the pavement or the trail. But it isn’t just our sense of responsible dog ownership and the health benefits that get us (and keep us) walking. A small study by a researcher at the University of Liverpool found that a prime motivation for walking our dogs is that it makes us happy. And why does it make us happy? Because we believe it makes our dogs happy, too.
Dogs get to smell interesting things, check out the sights, and spend time with their owners. And, the bonding, exercise, and connecting with nature raises our spirits, too. The research was conducted using interviews and personal written materials from a small group of dog owners. It revealed that they were motivated to continue walks because they felt their dogs were enjoying it. Their motivation decreased if the dog seemed too old or too lazy to walk regularly, or was misbehaving. The study found that, although dog owners described the walks as "for the dog," their responses showed that the dog’s needs aligned with their own. Their happiness was contingent on believing that the dog was feeling happiness and enjoyment.
There have been numerous studies on the benefits that dog walking brings to humans:
- It boosts motivation to get some exercise, especially if you feel you’re doing it for your canine friend.
- Dog walking helps manage stress. Just being around a dog can lower your levels of cortisol, the human stress hormone.
- The companionship of our nonjudgmental and loving canine friends has several mental health benefits, including increasing our sense of self-esteem.
- While your dog is connecting with nature, so are you. If you put down your phone, pay attention to your surroundings, and get in touch with nature, it can increase your focus and well-being. Anecdotally, dog walking is useful for problem-solving and getting yourself "unstuck."
- Dog walking is a great opportunity for socializing, for both you and your dog. Your dog gets to experience new people, surroundings, and other dogs. And you might find yourself chatting with other dog walkers or neighbors.
- Walking alone can feel lonely or even boring. And sitting alone in the yard isn’t too exciting for your dog, either. A walk with an enthusiastic canine is instant companionship.
Dog walking is packed with physical and mental health benefits, which alone should be enough reason to do it. But most of all, we enjoy it because our dogs enjoy it. Now, doesn't that make you want to hook up the leash, go outside, and get happy?