Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Increasing physical activity by four legs rather than two: systematic review of dog-facilitated physical activity interventions
  1. Ryan E Rhodes1,
  2. Maria Baranova1,
  3. Hayley Christian2,
  4. Carri Westgarth3
  1. 1 School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2 Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, Australia
  3. 3 University of Liverpool, Liverpool, Merseyside, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ryan E Rhodes, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8W 3N4, Canada; rhodes{at}


Objectives Regular walking is a critical target of physical activity (PA) promotion, and dog walking is a feasible PA intervention for a large segment of the population. The purpose of this paper was to review PA interventions that have involved canine interactions and to evaluate their effectiveness. A secondary aim of this review was to highlight the populations, settings, designs and intervention components that have been applied so as to inform future research.

Design Systematic review.

Data sources We carried out literature searches to August 2019 using six common databases.

Eligibility criteria Studies included published papers in peer-reviewed journals and grey literature (theses and dissertations) in the English language that included any PA behaviour change design (ie, randomised controlled trial, quasi-experimental) that focused on canine-related intervention. We grouped findings by population, setting, medium, research design and quality, theory and behaviour change techniques applied.

Results The initial search yielded 25 010 publications which were reduced to 13 independent studies of medium and high risks of bias after screening for eligibility criteria. The approaches to intervene on PA were varied and included loaner dogs, new dog owners and the promotion of walking among established dog owners. Findings were consistent in showing that canine-assisted interventions do increase PA (82% of the studies had changes favouring the canine-facilitated intervention). Exploratory subanalyses showed that specific study characteristics and methods may have moderated the effects. Compared with studies with longer follow-up periods, studies with shorter follow-up favoured behaviour changes of the canine intervention over the control condition.

Conclusion Canine-based PA interventions appear effective, but future research should move beyond feasibility and proof of concept studies to increase rigour, quality and generalisability of findings.

  • aging/ageing
  • exercise
  • health promotion
  • intervention
  • walking

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors RER, CW and HC conceived of the paper and developed the search strategy. MB provided the main searches, wrote the Methods section and developed the tables. RER performed the analyses and wrote the paper. All authors edited the paper and gave the final approval of the manuscript.

  • Funding RER is supported by funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society. HC is supported by an Australian National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship (number 100794).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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