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Animal Behavior

How Many People Don't Walk Their Dogs?

There are many reasons why people choose not to regularly walk their dogs.

Ed Yourdon (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Source: Ed Yourdon (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

While I was out walking my younger dog, Ranger, I ran into a woman from the neighborhood who was walking her handsome white poodle, Herman. We chatted while our two dogs sniffed greetings.

"I am a bit concerned about one of my neighbors," she told me. "She has one of those fluffy little dogs, but I never see her out walking him. So last week I asked her, 'How often do you walk your dog?' and she told me that she never walks the dog. She just lets the dog out in the yard for 15 minutes two or three times a day and that's it. That's really wrong and perverse. I walk Herman twice a day, which I feel is the minimum he needs. I can't imagine not ever walking your dog, and I wanted to know whether I should be reporting her to the SPCA for potential dog abuse."

I tried to reassure her that her neighbor's behavior was not all that atypical, especially when it comes to smaller dogs, and certainly didn't warrant a report to the SPCA. However, when I got home, I decided to see what the collected facts about dog walking actually are.

In my files, since 2010, I found six reports on surveys that looked at dog walking. These came from sources including the University of Liverpool, the University of Western Australia, and Michigan State. In addition, some surveys were conducted by companies associated with dog products (mostly in the UK).

The surveys differed in size (ranging from around 600 participants to over 2000) and the demographics and methodologies were quite different, but looking over the available data, it's possible to build a sort of snapshot of the typical dog-walking pet owner and his non-dog-walking counterpart.

The statistics from these studies vary widely as to how many dog owners walk their dogs regularly, but it ranges from a high of around 70 percent to a low of around 30 percent. If we flip that around, that means that somewhere in the vicinity of 30 to 60 percent of dog owners do not walk their dogs on a regular basis. When I averaged the results, it came out to around 41 percent of dog owners overall who do not regularly walk their dogs.

The data shows that those people who walk their dogs are actually putting in a lot of time and effort. One of the larger studies found that the average pet dog is taken on a walk around nine times a week, with the walk lasting around 34 minutes on each occasion and covering almost two miles. Total that up and it comes to five hours a week, or 11 days a year, which the owner spends walking their pet. Over the period of a year, that totals up to around 870 miles, which is just 3 miles less than the distance you would trek down the interstate highway to travel from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia.

The likelihood that a dog will be walked regularly depends upon a number of factors. Larger dogs are more likely to be walked, and people who have a stronger level of attachment to their dog are more likely to walk their pet. In fact, 64 percent of dog owners believe that dog walking is a personal reflection of their love and affection for their dogs. Just as in the case of the woman I met, 78 percent of dog owners surveyed believe that their dog should be walked twice a day.

Even among the dog-walking pet owners, there are still times when the walk is canceled for the day. In fact, 57 percent of dog-walking owners admit to skipping walks each week. The most common reasons that they offer are unsatisfactory weather (56 percent), work pressures (32 percent), difficulties dealing with the dog (31 percent), or family responsibilities (24 percent). However, 32 percent admit that they canceled a walk simply out of laziness or fatigue on a given day. Another interesting fact: Monday is the day a dog's walk is most likely to be skipped.

However, there are also factors which decrease the overall likelihood that a dog will be walked. Having children at home, or having a child who has the main responsibility to be the dog walker, greatly reduced the likelihood that the dog would actually be put on leash and taken out for a stroll. Small dogs, specifically those weighing 30 pounds or less, are typically walked much less than larger dogs. Older dogs and overweight dogs are rarely taken on walks. I am quite conscious of this effect of age since, when I take out the dog leashes, my older dog, Ripley, often deliberately turns away from the door and jumps up on the sofa to lie down and then deliberately avoids eye contact. I must admit that on many occasions when I see this behavior, I acquiesce to his desires and only walk my younger dog.

Dog walking does not simply involve walking. During the average walk, dogs interact with other dogs around four times. There is also a lot of human socialization going on during the walk. Around four times on each walk, the dog owner will encounter other people also out walking their pets. On about half of these occasions, they will stop to have a short chat. Sometimes, however, this conversation will extend to taking a break to buy coffee or a drink someplace along the route. Apparently each walk will also find the average dog jumping up on someone else at least once, and the dog leash will need to be untangled from trees, other people, and dogs twice on average during each outing.

A final marginal note is that one of the studies found that dog owners use an average of 936 "poop bags" each year while walking their pet.

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More from Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
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