Going to the Dogs: How Owning a Dog Can Improve Older Adults’ Health

A recent study of older adults looked the contributions of dog ownership on positive health outcomes, and asked whether potential health benefits of dog ownership were associated with the physical activity of walking the dog or other factors. The study also looked at the potential influence of older adults’ bonds with their dogs.

This study used data on 774 individuals from the Health and Retirement study with an average age of 67. Of these, 274 owned at least one dog.  Dog owners were divided into two groups: those who walked their dogs and those who did not, in order to determine whether any positive health outcomes =were related to dog-walking.

When the researchers examined the impact of dog ownership alone, they found it was not associated with older adults’ better physical health and health behaviors (such as fewer limitations on activities of daily living, fewer chronic health conditions, and fewer doctor visits).. On the other hand, dog walking was associated with better physical health; specifically, with more frequent exercise.

As for the role of pet bonding, the researchers found that stronger bonding was associated with much greater likelihood of dog walking. Higher bonding scores were also associated with more minutes per day spent dog walking.

The most common reasons given by the second group for not walking the dog were related to dog characteristics or behavior (40 percent), such as the dog not liking to walk or not being well-behaved. Only 16 percent cited their health or the dog’s health as reasons for not dog walking.

These findings suggest the importance of carefully choosing a dog for older adults who want to get health benefits from dog ownership. A dog without a good temperament or proper training appears to be a significant impediment to getting the health benefits associated with dog-walking and with pet bonding.

For positive health benefits of dog ownership to emerge, it seems that owning a; you need to find the best dog fit for that older adult and to pick up the leash.


Curl AL, Bibbo J and Johnson RA. Dog walking, the human-animal bond and older adults’ physical health. The Gerontologist. (2016). DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnw051

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