Dog owners dedicated to their pooches

University of Victoria professor Joan Wharf Higgins has been studying the exercise habits of dog owners and their canines in local parks. She was at McNeill Bay this week with her Bedlington terrier

University of Victoria professor Joan Wharf Higgins has been studying the exercise habits of dog owners and their canines in local parks. She was at McNeill Bay this week with her Bedlington terrier

UVic researchers look at canine, human health habits

Dog owners exercising their pooches at Windsor Park last winter may remember seeing a solitary figure with clipboard in hand.

Even when it snowed, either University of Victoria exercise science professor Joan Wharf Higgins or one of two other researchers were out for hours watching pooches and their masters at Windsor and five other parks in the region.

“We wanted to actually observe and see who is out there on a lousy day with their dogs,” Wharf Higgins said.

The researchers observed 3,000 people over two months in the winter and two months in the late spring. In 10-minute scans they made notes of such details as who was in the park, what activities they were engaged in and whether dogs were on or off leash.

What they found was that in crummy winter weather, visits to parks by dogs and their owners actually increased.

While in fair to poor weather non-dog-walking activities in the parks fell by 35 per cent, dog walking increased by six per cent when the weather was really poor. The findings suggest that dog owners likely feel an ethical responsibility for their dogs’ health, the same responsibility that parents feel for their children, Wharf Higgins said.

“Where some go “Oh, I’m not going out today’ [in bad weather], you look at your dog and go ‘OK, we better go.’”

The findings will be published this spring in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

The researchers hope to further their work by looking at not-so diligent dog owners. They hope people who walk their dogs less than four times a week will step forward to take part in another study, which will involve wearing a pedometer and GPS watch.

“We want to see how much dog walking contributes to their overall activity level,” Wharf Higgins said.

Participants will be offered a $25 honorarium or pet store gift certificate twice during the six-month study.

For more information, call the exercise science, physical and health education department at 250-472-5488.

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