The authors motivate the reader by citing literature on the benefits of regular physical activity and the positive impact of dog ownership on walking. They then set about explaining the amount of walking that the owners do and how it depends on the owners' psychology and some characteristics of the dogs, i.e. age, size and energy. Young, big, and energetic dogs get more walking.
The motivation of the owner is measured using the Behavioural Regulation in Exercise Questionnaire 2 (BREQ-2). In doing so they attempt to distinguish between different types of motivation. There are motivations like "other people say I should", "I feel guilty", "I value the benefits", and "It is fun". While all types of motivation work, the latter two motivations have a bigger impact. The last sentence in the article says "future interventions in this area should accentuate dog walking as an investment in quality time and an opportunity to bond with one's dog".
My motivation is probably closest to the "I feel guilty" classification. In fact, the dog employs a few tricks to make me feel guilty. One method is where he raises his head, looks from left-to-right or right-to-left, and starts looking alert. "What's happening? Are we going for a walk?" A walk for him means getting into the back of my car, travelling 10km, and then going for a 4km walk on a lead. If he is really keen then he will start running between me and the car. "Follow me to the car and let's go for a walk." This is a favourite trick of TV animals like Lassie, Skippy (the kangaroo), and Flipper (the dolphin). However, his most successful ploy is to droop his head to the side and look up at me with his sad eyes. When this is accompanied by a low whimper it is almost 100% successful.
It is a pity we could not have a BREQ-2 for the dogs as well as their owners. It might help explain why our dog seems to prefers walking on a leash rather than roaming freely in the fields around our house. Maybe it has to do with the relative frequency of each type of activity. Or maybe the explanation is a social one. He likes meeting other dogs. He bares his teeth and threatens them with all sort of destruction. He is very brave while I am restraining him!
The social side does not play a big role in the way economists explain things. Economists tend to focus on the individual. How would an economist explain the decision to exercise (or to purchase gym membership)? It can depend on the way they think about humans. Consider the following explanation by Tim Harford of the Financial Times.
“Imagine – I realise this sounds like some bizarre joke – how Mr Spock, Odysseus and Homer Simpson would go about applying for membership of a gym. Spock would choose a suitable contract – a costly payment per visit, or an annual flat-fee for unlimited visits – after correctly forecasting his gym usage. Simpson, wrongly expecting that he would use the gym a lot, would sign up for the expensive annual membership. Odysseus might also choose the annual membership, but for a different reason: he would hope that the “all-the-iron-you-can-pump” contract might provoke him to exercise, despite the foreseeable temptation to stay in bed.”
Odysseus (aka Ulysses) uses the membership as a commitment mechanism. His current self buys the membership so as to constrain his future self. Odysseus is used as an example in a wide variety of disciplines. Neuroscientist David Eagleman uses the Ulysses example (watch his 2min YouTube video here). Interestingly, Eagleman uses the social pressure from another human to help make sure he goes to the gym. A dog could provide some of the same pressure. Maybe that should be another lesson. Buy a dog instead of gym membership.