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Does dog acquisition improve physical activity, sedentary behaviour and biological markers of cardiometabolic health? Results from a three-arm controlled study
  1. Lauren Powell1,
  2. Kate M Edwards2,
  3. Adrian Bauman1,
  4. Paul McGreevy3,
  5. Anthony Podberscek4,
  6. Brendon Neilly5,
  7. Catherine Sherrington6,
  8. Emmanuel Stamatakis1
  1. 1Charles Perkins Centre, Prevention Research Collaboration, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2Charles Perkins Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4Charles Perkins Centre, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  5. 5Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  6. 6Institute for Musculoskeletal Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Lauren Powell; lauren.powell{at}


Objectives Dog ownership has been associated with improved cardiometabolic risk factors, including physical activity. Most of the evidence originates from cross-sectional studies or populations with established disease. This study investigated changes in physical activity and other cardiometabolic risk factors following dog acquisition in a sample of 71 community-dwelling adults.

Methods Participants self-allocated to three groups: 17 individuals acquired a dog within 1 month of baseline (dog acquisition), 29 delayed dog acquisition until study completion (lagged control) and 25 had no interest in dog acquisition (community control). Self-reported and thigh-worn accelerometer-based physical activity patterns, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, resting heart rate and VO2max were measured three times: baseline, 3 months and 8 months. Data were analysed using repeated measures analysis of covariance with owner age, season, sex and education included as covariates. Post hoc between-group tests were performed where there were significant overall effects (p<0.05).

Results We found significant effects in mean daily steps (F(4,64)=3.02, p=0.02) and sit-to-stand transitions (F(4,66)=3.49, p=0.01). The dog acquisition group performed an additional 2589 steps (p=0.004) and 8.2 sit-to-stand transitions (p=0.03) per day at 3 months, although these effects were not maintained at 8 months. We found a significant effect in self-reported weekly walking duration (F(4,130)=2.84, p=0.03) among the lagged control group with an 80 min increase between 3 and 8 months (p=0.04). Other cardiometabolic risk factors were unchanged following dog acquisition.

Conclusion Our study provides encouraging results that suggest a positive influence of dog acquisition on physical activity in the short term but larger and more generalisable controlled studies are needed.

Trial registration number ACTRN12617000967381.

  • physical activity
  • sedentary
  • cardiovascular
  • accelerometer
  • aerobic fitness

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  • Twitter @LaurenRPowell, @M_Stamatakis

  • Contributors ES initiated and designed the study, acquired funding, led the broader research programme and supervised the PAWS pilot study. KME, PM, AB, CS and AP contributed to the study design. LP led the data collection. BN contributed to the acquisition of data. LP cleaned and analysed the data and drafted the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript before submission.

  • Funding This research was supported by a research donation provided by Ms Lynne Cattell (University of Sydney grant ID: 183100).

  • Disclaimer The donor had no involvement in the study design; collection, analysis and interpretation of data; writing of the report or the decision to submit the article for publication.

  • Competing interests LP is a postdoctoral research fellow who does not currently own a dog, but has owned and fostered dogs for several years; AB is an Emeritus Professor of Public Health (Physical Activity) who owns one dog, but has had two dogs for most of the past three decades; KE is an A/Prof in Exercise Physiology who does not own a dog, but grew up in a dog-owning household; CS is a Professor of Public Health who does not own a dog; BN currently owns a dog and has worked in animal welfare shelters for several years; PMcG is a Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science who currently owns and has owned owns several dogs in the past. AP is the Editor in Chief of Anthrozoös, a journal specialising on human–animal interaction, who does not own a dog; ES is a Professor of Physical Activity, Lifestyle, and Population Health who owns two rescue dogs.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval was obtained from the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee (2016/921) and the Animal Ethics Committee (2017/1134). The study was registered with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry. All participants provided informed written consent

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request. The data included in this study are available from the last author upon reasonable request.

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