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Open AccessArticle

Examining How Dog ‘Acquisition’ Affects Physical Activity and Psychosocial Well-Being: Findings from the BuddyStudy Pilot Trial

1
Department of Kinesiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003, USA
2
Last Hope K9 Rescue, Boston, MA 02109, USA
3
Department of Exercise and Sports Studies, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, USA
4
Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA 01002, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(9), 666; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090666
Received: 7 August 2019 / Revised: 30 August 2019 / Accepted: 4 September 2019 / Published: 7 September 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Dog Behaviour, Physiology and Welfare)
Dog owners are more physically active than non-dog owners, but the direction of the relationship between dog ownership and increased physical activity is unknown. In other words, it is unclear whether acquiring a dog causes a person to become more active, or whether more physically active people choose to acquire dogs. Given that regular physical activity is critical for the prevention and management of numerous chronic diseases, research supporting the hypothesis that dogs make people more active could inform programs and policies that encourage responsible dog ownership. In the BuddyStudy, we used dog fostering to mimic dog acquisition, and examined how taking a dog into one’s home affected physical activity and psychosocial well-being. Nearly half of study participants saw large increases in physical activity and nearly three-quarters saw improvements in mood after fostering for six weeks. More than half met someone new in their neighborhood because of their foster dog. Most participants adopted their foster dog after the six-week foster period, and some maintained improvements in physical activity and well-being at 12 weeks. The results of this pilot study are promising and warrant a larger investigation.
Dog owners are more physically active than non-dog owners, but evidence of a causal relationship between dog acquisition and increased physical activity is lacking. Such evidence could inform programs and policies that encourage responsible dog ownership. Randomized controlled trials are the ‘gold standard’ for determining causation, but they are prohibited in this area due to ethical concerns. In the BuddyStudy, we tested the feasibility of using dog fostering as a proxy for dog acquisition, which would allow ethical random assignment. In this single-arm trial, 11 participants fostered a rescue dog for six weeks. Physical activity and psychosocial data were collected at baseline, 6, and 12 weeks. At 6 weeks, mean change in steps/day was 1192.1 ± 2457.8. Mean changes on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and the Perceived Stress Scale were −4.9 ± 8.7 and −0.8 ± 5.5, respectively. More than half of participants (55%) reported meeting someone new in their neighborhood because of their foster dog. Eight participants (73%) adopted their foster dog after the 6-week foster period; some maintained improvements in physical activity and well-being at 12 weeks. Given the demonstrated feasibility and preliminary findings of the BuddyStudy, a randomized trial of immediate versus delayed dog fostering is warranted. View Full-Text
Keywords: dog ownership; dog walking; physical activity; accelerometry; psychosocial well-being; prospective trial; animal-assisted intervention; dog rescue; foster dog; shelter dog dog ownership; dog walking; physical activity; accelerometry; psychosocial well-being; prospective trial; animal-assisted intervention; dog rescue; foster dog; shelter dog
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Potter, K.; Teng, J.E.; Masteller, B.; Rajala, C.; Balzer, L.B. Examining How Dog ‘Acquisition’ Affects Physical Activity and Psychosocial Well-Being: Findings from the BuddyStudy Pilot Trial. Animals 2019, 9, 666.

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