By Sian Marek, Transportation Planner, AECOM

Carbon emissions produced through transport need to be targeted to reduce their impact on the climate. There are many different ways to achieve this, such as through reducing the need to travel, denser land use, transitioning to electric vehicles, and increasing a mode shift to active mode use.

Whilst there is not one simple solution, tackling carbon emissions will come from a range of initiatives. For each of these, it will require the right infrastructure being in place and a shift to encourage behavioural change. One immediate change that many can do is transitioning their short trips from vehicle usage to walking.

Many trips undertaken everyday can be done by walking, yet deterrents such as adverse weather, perceived distance to travel, time constraints or safety concerns can often make people jump in their car without a second thought. The solution…get a dog!

Dog ownership can help to create a long-term behavioural change, by naturally encouraging people to do short trips via active modes every day. Through the obligation of daily dog walking, the barriers normally preventing walking as an option can be mitigated, as summarised below:

  • Adverse weather – the obligation to walk dogs regardless of weather can mitigate this issue for owners, who become accustomed to being out in a variety of weather conditions throughout the year
  • Distance to travel – dog walking everyday improves health and can make individuals more aware of their own walking speeds and capabilities. Having the knowledge of a local facility being within a daily dog walking route can make travelling to this facility more likely via active modes as the user has built an awareness of their own comfort and capabilities for travel distance through this daily pattern
  • Lack of time – dog walking can establish an everyday behaviour with allocated time. There is an opportunity to integrate dog walking time with the running of other errands through facilities, thus reducing the need for additional trips
  • Lack of feeling safe in a neighbourhood – studies have shown that dog walking can be used as a mechanism for increasing perceptions of neighbourhood safety. Communities that focus on supporting dog walking have a greater potential of creating more social connectedness and safety perceptions within neighbourhoods, overcoming this barrier for many

Humans are creatures of habit, and habits are developed through a long-term behavioural change. Through dog ownership, walking becomes a regular habit and becomes ingrained into our everyday lives. By demystifying the barriers to walking, owners are more likely to transition any short trips from vehicle use to an active mode movement. This not only results in health benefits for the individual, but each trip not done via private vehicles results in minimising congestion and the associated carbon emissions from each movement.

As noted, whilst the habits associated with dog ownership can result in a long-term behavioural change, the infrastructure also needs to be in place. Future planning which focuses on creating an urban form that accommodates all types of users and all types of movements that encourage behavioural change will overall create a trigger to encourage mode shift.

Whilst owning dogs and getting into the habit to transfer shorter trips away from private vehicles will not solve the transport climate issue, this is certainly one change that can contribute to creating a positive change.

Read the full paper here.