Human-Dog Bond with Sports and Exercise

The bond between a human and their dog is strong, perhaps unbreakable. But how does that bond strengthen the owner and the dog as individuals? The Human-Dog Bond with Sports and Exercise Lab, directed by Heidi Kluess, Ph.D., studies the relationship between dogs and their owners – specifically those pairs that participate in canine sports. The lab explores whether owners who participate in canine sports with their dogs are more likely to maintain a healthy body composition for their dogs and for themselves.

Current Projects

  • What makes an owner successful in maintaining their dog’s healthy body condition?
    • It is estimated that 40-60% of pet dogs are obese, resulting in lifelong health problems including arthritis, diabetes, poor quality of life and reduce longevity. The goal of this study is to investigate the factors that contribute to people making good decisions about maintaining their dog’s healthy body condition. We will accomplish this by recruiting pet dog owners during veterinary wellness visits and sport dog owners and their dogs at local dog sport events such as dock diving, obedience, disc dog and agility trials. We will assess the dog’s body condition using the Purina 9 point body condition scale, body mass index and body fatness. The owner will answer questions about self-reported feeding behaviors, self-reported exercise behaviors, the owner’s opinion of the dog’s body condition, and exercise and feeding intentions.
    • The working hypothesis is that sport dog owners will better estimate their dog’s body condition and report stronger belief and control over their dogs’ feeding and exercise compared to traditional pet owners. We also expect that sport dog owners will be more influenced in their feeding and exercise behavior by other dog owners, while traditional pet owners will be more influenced by their veterinarian. We expect that the main correlate with body condition for all dogs will be amount fed per day and a smaller relationship with exercise in both groups. This study will provide new and innovative data on how best to intervene for two distinct pet owners to maintain a healthy weight for their pets.
    • Principal Investigators:

      • Heidi A. Kluess, Ph.D. FACSM, CGC evaluator, School of Kinesiology, Auburn University

      • Tekla Lee-Fowler, DVM, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University

      • Danielle Wadsworth, Ph.D., School of Kinesiology, Auburn University

  • Does Participation in canine sports improve physical function and health in women over 50 years old?
    • It is well known that dog ownership results in health benefits. However, obesity in pet dogs and their owners is increasing. A unique group of pet owners who may see greater health benefits from pet ownership are people who participate in Canine Sports. this is an understudied group of people who have a high percentage of women over the age of 50. This age group is at high risk for a variety of health problems that may be ameliorated by participation in Canine Sports. Canine Sports may also benefit the dog by providing higher physical activity and optimal body condition.
    • Hypothesis/objectives: Women over 50 who participate in Canine Sports will have higher satisfaction with life scores which will be related to higher physical function, strength, a better relationship with their dog and other humans (interpersonal competence), higher reported physical activity with their dog and fewer health issues compared to women who own dogs but do not participate in Canine Sports.
    • Study design and methods: This is a cross-sectional study comparing people and dogs that participate in Canine Sports to traditional pet owners and their dogs.
    • Prelim data: We have preliminary data on 43 traditional pet owners and dogs and 103 Canine Sports owners and their dogs. Women over 50 who participate in dog sports have optimal body composition scores and their dogs are in optimal body condition. Pet owners are classified as “obese” and their dogs have body condition scores of “too heavy.”
    • Expected results: We expect to see higher satisfaction with life scores which will be related to higher physical function, strength, a better relationship with their dog and other humans (interpersonal competence), higher reported physical activity with their dog and fewer health issues compared to women who own dogs but do not participate in dog sports.
    • Potential impact in Human-Animal Bond Research: This is a study that specifically looks at a group of people who have a very strong bond with their dogs and participate regularly with their dogs in a form of physical activity. This has the potential to improve the mental and physical health of the person and the dog.