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Examining how dog ‘acquisition’affects physical activity and psychosocial well-being: findings from the buddystudy pilot trial

Abstract

Dog owners are more physically active than non-dog owners, but evidence of a causal relationship between dog acquisition and increased physical activity is lacking. Such evidence could inform programs and policies that encourage responsible dog ownership. Randomized controlled trials are the ‘gold standard’ for determining causation, but they are prohibited in this area due to ethical concerns. In the BuddyStudy, we tested the feasibility of using dog fostering as a proxy for dog acquisition, which would allow ethical random assignment. In this single-arm trial, 11 participants fostered a rescue dog for six weeks. Physical activity and psychosocial data were collected at baseline, 6, and 12 weeks. At 6 weeks, mean change in steps/day was 1192.1 ± 2457.8. Mean changes on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and the Perceived Stress Scale were −4.9 ± 8.7 and −0.8 ± 5.5, respectively. More than half of participants (55%) reported meeting someone new in their neighborhood because of their foster dog. Eight participants (73%) adopted their foster dog after the 6-week foster period; some maintained improvements in physical activity and well-being at 12 weeks. Given the demonstrated feasibility and preliminary findings of the BuddyStudy, a randomized trial of immediate versus delayed dog fostering is warranted.

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