Scientific Results: Living in a Disadvantaged Neighborhood is Associated with Reduced Dog-Walking

September 6, 2022 - 6 minutes read

Posts in our Scientific Results series introduce recent papers published in the scientific literature by members of the Dog Aging Project research team. Follow this series to learn more about the scientific questions we’re asking, the kinds of results we’re getting, and what it all means for you and your dog.

Who worked on this research?

Devin Collins
Hannah Lee
Matthew D. Dunbar
Kyle Crowder
Dog Aging Project Consortium

Where was it published?

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

What is this paper about?

In this paper, we used data collected from the Dog Aging Project to explore the link between on-leash dog walking and neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage (neighborhoods characterized by high poverty and unemployment). Previous studies suggest that residents in disadvantaged neighborhoods perceive their environments to be less safe from crime, which deters recreational walking, particularly amongst older adults. However, no study to date has investigated the link between neighborhood disadvantage and dog-walking specifically.

By geocoding DAP Pack members’ home addresses and linking these coordinates to census data that characterize the residential neighborhood, we constructed an index of neighborhood disadvantage. On-leash walking frequency was determined from participant responses on the Health and Life Experience Survey. To isolate the relationship between neighborhood disadvantage and on-leash walking, our regression models control for a host of household, dog, and environmental variables, including individual household income.

We found that dog owners in more disadvantaged neighborhoods report significantly less weekly on-leash walking. In addition, we find some evidence that the association between disadvantage and dog-walking is slightly more pronounced for older owners. These findings improve our understanding of the relationship between the social environment and physical function and carry implications for both dog and human health.

What do these results mean for me and my dog?

Our study suggests that neighborhood disadvantage plays a role in the frequency of on-leash dog walking. In addition, we found some tentative evidence for an underlying “fear of crime” mechanism because disadvantage appears to be more strongly related to walking frequency for older owners. However, more research is needed to verify causal mechanisms underlying the association. Other factors we could not account for in our study (such as the quality of neighborhood amenities or presence of dog-friendly parks) may also be important environmental predictors of dog-walking frequency.

Nevertheless, given that pet ownership has been identified as a potential public health strategy to improve health and wellness in humans, our research suggests that future public health interventions should pay attention to larger political and economic processes that drive and sustain neighborhood inequality.

Where can I learn more?

Collins D, Lee H, Dunbar MD, Crowder K, Dog Aging Project Consortium. Associations between Neighborhood Disadvantage and Dog Walking among Participants in the Dog Aging Project. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022; 19(18):11179.


Although neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage is negatively related to overall physical activity, prior studies reveal a complex relationship between disadvantage and particular walking behaviors. While disadvantage is associated with reduced recreational walking through a hypothesized “fear of crime” mechanism, the built environment in disadvantaged neighborhoods may encourage utilitarian walking. To date, no study has assessed how disadvantage relates to dog walking, a distinct walking behavior that is neither strictly recreational nor utilitarian but represents a key mechanism through which pet ownership may affect human health. We employ a large (n=19,732) dataset from the Dog Aging Project to understand how neighborhood disadvantage is associated with dog walking when controlling for individual-, household-, and environmental-level factors. We find that dog owners in more disadvantaged neighborhoods report less on-leash walking activity compared to owners in advantaged neighborhoods and discuss the possibility of a fear of crime mechanism underlying this association. These findings improve our understanding of the relationship between neighborhood disadvantage and physical function and highlight the need for public health interventions that encourage dog ownership to consider neighborhood disadvantage.