Thursday, May 18, 2017

Needed: non-dog owners to help science

This may seem like a strange question, but do you not own a dog? You may just be able to contribute to a very important study about dog ownership.

Researchers at the University of Sydney are conducting a world-first study examining the impact of dog ownership on health and happiness, and they need some help.

But first, a bit of background:

Almost 2 in 5 Australian households own a dog, resulting in one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. However, dog ownership is complex and we still do not know what makes a good dog-owner pair. Despite the popular perception that owning a dog is good for you there is surprisingly little long-term scientific evidence to support this.   

The Physical and Affective Wellbeing Study of dog owners (PAWS) is hoping to change this. The study is using cutting edge science to investigate the impact of real-world dog ownership on both physical and mental health in a way never done before. PAWS also investigates the effects of adoption on dog health, and the quality of the human-dog bond, which is crucial for health benefits in both species.

PAWS is looking for 100 adults who do not currently own a dog to participate in the study – people who are considering owning a dog as well as those who have no interest in doing so. To be eligible, you must live in the Sydney metropolitan area and must not currently own a furry pet. The study will run for 8 months and would require you to meet with researchers three times during this period.

There is some compensation for volunteers who complete the study.

Understanding real-world dog ownership is crucial for optimising the human-dog coexistence for the benefit of both species. If you would like to get involved in this study, or you would like further information, please send an email to or call (02) 8627 5791.

You can also follow PAWS on Facebook and join the conversation on Twitter.

The researcher collecting this data is PhD Candidate Lauren Powell. She completed her undergraduate degree in Animal and Veterinary Bioscience in 2015, focusing on canine behavioural genetics. Through her part-time work at RSPCA NSW she developed a strong interest in what it is that makes an adoption successful and what is needed in creating a positive human-dog relationship. This developed further to an interest in how the human-dog bond effects health in both species, ultimately leading her to the PAWS project.

The PAWS study was primarily developed by Manos Stamatakis with other members of the Dog Ownership and Human Health Node. Manos has years of experience researching physical activity and health behaviours in humans and developed an interest in dogs after living with his partner’s dogs and realising the true range of emotions they experience.

And his conversion to dog lover was the result of a Jack Russell’s “accident” in the kitchen, an incident covered in the Sydney Uni Alumni Magazine.

“Having reluctantly allowed his then-partner’s dog Rufus into his apartment, Stamatakis returned home unexpectedly late to find an uncharacteristically subdued Rufus and a nasty surprise on his kitchen floor. “He was sitting there in the corner of the hallway staring at the floor, ashamed, embarrassed, upset because he let us down. I knew that he was genuinely upset and it was like an instant connection. It felt like a Eureka moment for me,” Stamatakis says. “I said ‘I have underestimated this creature. What have I been doing all this time? How have I been so stupid?’” 
(Sydney Alumni Magazine Issue 02, Semester 2 2015).

And yet, that little accident, and that lightbulb moment, might change history. Or at least what we understand about humans and dogs. So if you don't live with a furry friend, or you have friends or family who don't, please get involved or spread the word: send an email to or call (02) 8627 5791.