Dog owners should visit woodlands to boost health

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A new research report has been released by the UK’s largest dog welfare organisation, the Kennel Club, Forestry Commission Scotland and Paths for All, showing how dog owners can keep themselves and their dogs happier and healthier by walking more often in forests around towns and cities.

The research, which was launched at the world’s biggest dog show, Crufts, at Birmingham’s NEC, found that dog owners might not be giving their dogs the daily exercise they need to stay fit and healthy because they may not know about nearby greenspaces or might not feel that they would be welcome to walk their dogs there.

The research report, ‘Let’s go walkies’, sought to understand why, and how many, people were not walking their dogs regularly in urban forests. The survey was undertaken in a number of urban woodlands around Glasgow.

It found that with less-active people, only 25 per cent of dogs are walked every day, most often along streets and with dogs being on lead most (28 per cent) or all (33 per cent) of the time. Less than half of dog owners (38 per cent) know about the woodlands on their doorsteps, and only 11 per cent have ever visited them. When dogs are walked, the walks only last on average 36 minutes, compared to active dog walkers who exercise their pets for around an hour a day. 36 minutes of exercise is less than most dog breeds need daily to keep them fit and healthy.

To increase levels of dog walking, the report found that while dog-friendly facilities like activity trails, cafes, water bowls and bins for dog waste would make urban forests more attractive for many less-active dog owners, the key thing people wanted was safe nearby greenspaces where they felt welcome with their pets.

Vets also said they would be more willing to recommend clients walked their dogs more in the outdoors if they had greater confidence that local woodlands were safe and well maintained.

The researchers used surveys and focus groups with 300 less-active dog owners, plus interviews with local vets, to find out why people were not meeting the Government’s target for 30 minutes of exercise, five or more times per week. The report is unique, as research has traditionally focussed on understanding the needs of dog owners who were already regularly walking their pets, and so overlooked the needs of people who didn’t walk their dogs very often.

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said: “At a time when some local councils are making dog walkers feel less welcome, this research shows that more positive messaging and better management is really what’s needed to improve the health of people and dogs alike, and in turn reduce pressures on the NHS and vets who see overweight or obese dogs in their practices.”

Amanda Bryan, Forestry Commissioner for Scotland said: “Our woodlands are like the Natural Health Service – they are fantastic places to get active, recharge the batteries and get a great sense of wellbeing. There really isn’t a better place to go with your dogs and they love it too.

“We can do more to share the positive health benefits that woodland dog walking can bring, especially in urban areas. It’s welcome news that a pilot study will take this forward and promote dog friendly urban woodlands as great opportunities to boost healthy lifestyles.

“The results could mean happier and healthier dogs and their owners.”

Forest Enterprise Scotland will pilot ‘dog walking friendly sites’ around Glasgow in summer 2017.

Ian McCall, Paths for All Senior Development Officer, said: “We now know that walking is good for people and their dogs, physically, mentally and socially. Visiting greenspaces including woodlands with good quality accessible paths gives significant benefits to wellbeing. We need to raise awareness of our green infrastructure and promote the benefits of these healthy and hassle-free places for dog walkers. The result will be a happier, healthier two and four-legged population in body and mind.”

To view the report, visit www.pathsforall.org.uk/pfa/news/dog-owners-should-visit-local-woodlands-and-greenspace-to-boost-health.html.