Walks of Life!

Dogs are good for all walks of life!

Dogs are some of the greatest social workers on the planet. All this month we will be looking at the importance of dogs to their local community in a multi-species society.

In The Dog Walk Recipe for Happiness, one of The Happiness Reports for June, we talked about some very important research[1] in New Zealand on the wonderful support a dog can be for people left vulnerable or potentially isolated by a long-term health condition. One of the really significant things was the way dogs helped humans build relationships. Dogs build a relationship with their own human and they also help their humans forge connections with other humans and dogs, share experiences, and build confidence.

Dogs build community

Dog walking is associated with maintaining higher levels of exercise and physical activity throughout life.[2] But dog walking is also just as important for community and social life.[3] And so the spaces for dog walking should be high on the list for policy-makers and urban planners. As well as making places like shops and cafes dog-friendly, what about our parks, or our local greenspace, or our pavements? The way we all share the neighbourhood is really important for dogs, humans, and the health and wellbeing of the whole community. Dogs help build community.

So, for this month of dog-friendly reports in The Together Venture, as well as access to shops and more, we are looking at the place of the dog in the community as a whole. And a big part of this is access for dogs in parks and green spaces. We will be looking at parks, and neighbourhoods, and community all July in Walks of Life.

Dog-friendly urban planning

Dog-friendly access is in fact a very important issue for urban planning and design. Where and how humans live will contribute to health and happiness. In a well-designed environment humans walk more, socialise more, move more, and have a stronger sense of community.[4] The better the design, and the more walkable the neighbourhood, the better the sense of community.

And dog-friendly access is a big part of this, because studies have shown that access to dog-friendly places and facilities not only gets humans walking more but also enhances a sense of community and neighbourhood cohesion.[5]

And it works both ways. A strong sense of local community also means humans will walk more. And if humans can take their dog along as well, then they are more likely to walk wherever possible, rather than hop on a bus, for example. And so a dog-friendly environment means the sense of community is self-sustaining.

Together, dog-friendly design and a sense of community will help maintain healthy levels of physical activity. This is especially important for humans as they get older.[6] Exercise is essential for maintaining physical and mental health as humans age, and dog walking makes a positive contribution to exercise. So, the more places a human can go with their dog the better. Dog-friendly policies indeed have a really positive effect on a community’s health and wellbeing.

Making the world more dog-friendly really is a very important issue. And, for the policy-makers and town planners, urban design that includes dog-friendly features and access will be more likely to keep humans active and neighbourly,[7] a great bonus to health and happiness. But failure to take account of dog-friendly environments in urban design will have a cost, especially to healthcare. So, failure to design for dogs and dog walking could have some very significant hidden costs indeed.

Dog-friendly … Be something bigger than the park!

Dog-friendly environments are fun and get everyone walking more. Dog-friendly policies are a great business opportunity for shops and businesses. But perhaps most important of all, going dog-friendly is really good for the community!

A dog-friendly neighbourhood is great for humans and dogs alike. It’s for all walks of life!


[1] Smith CM et al, “All Those Ingredients of the Walk”: The Therapeutic Spaces of Dog-walking for People with Long-term Health Conditions. Anthrozoös 30.2 (2017) 327-340/

[2] Hoerster KD et al. Dog walking: It association with physical activity guideline adherence and its correlates. Preventive Medicine 52 (2011) 33-38; Chritian H et al. Dog walking is associated with more outdoor play and independent mobility for children. Preventive Medicine 67 (2014) 259-263; Bauman AE et al. The epidemiology of dog walking: an unmet need for human and canine health. Medical Journal of Australia 175 (2001) 632-634; Shibata A et al. Physical activity of Japanese older adults who own and walk dogs. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 43 (2012) 429-433.

[3] Cutt HE et al, Dog ownership, health and physical activity: a critical review of the literature. Health and Place 13 (2007) 261-272.

[4] Yen IH et al, Neighborhood environment in studies of health of older adults: a systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 37 (2009) 255-263.

[5] Wood LJ et al. More than a furry companion: the ripple effect of companion animals on neighborhood interactions and sense of community. Society & Animals 15 (2013) 43-56.

[6] King AC & King DK. Physical activity for an aging population. Public Health Reviews 32 (2010) 401-426.

[7] Toohey AM et al. Dog-walking and sense of community in neighborhoods: Implications for promoting regular physical activity in adults 50 years and older. Health & Place 22 (2013) 75-81.

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