Perception vs. Reality: Is Your Sled Dog Actually a Couch Potato?

What best describes your dog(s)' activity level? Couch Potato? Sled dog? This is a question we’ve started asking everyone who enrolls in the project. Maybe you recall:


We pose this question for a specific reason: we’re very interested in the difference between perceived activity, and actual activity; what you think is true vs. what is actually true. Do you think of Boomer as a couch potato, but he’s actually a sled dog? Do you think Sky is average, but she’s actually spending all day on the couch?

The problem with relying on our perception is two-fold: (1) estimating things is hard and (2) we’re biased against being “below average”. This difference is the major reason Whistle FIT exists: it’s a tool that - among other things - takes an unbiased measurement of activity, with the goal of transforming our human tendency for false, biased perception into closer alignment with reality. When we can better measure how much activity our dogs are getting, we can make those adjustments to our daily habits that make a difference for our dogs. This difference between perceived and actual activity is a big opportunity for improvement just waiting to be discovered. The bigger the difference, the bigger an opportunity.

Let’s zoom in: imagine you’re the owner of Dennis, a male German Shepherd-mix around 6 years old, and you guess that Dennis is “about average”. But Dennis’ Whistle FIT activity monitor registers 24 minutes per day, while the average is 80 minutes per day. That means his activity is actually 30% of the average for large breed, adult dogs, and 46% of the average for the Pet Insight Project. That’s a big opportunity. We know activity is an important element in a suite of lifestyle factors that affect health, and this dog’s activity is off the mark.

Now let’s zoom out: what does perception look like for Pet Insight Project participants? Turns out, most owners think their dog’s activity levels are “about average”:


Makes sense! Most or us (and our dogs) are more or less “average”. That’s what makes the average the average - it’s the most typical value.  

But we can dig deeper. We - Pet Insight Project - are lucky to have a database that includes both perception of activity and actual activity. We can compare your answer to the question “What best describes your dog’s activity level” to the activity levels as measured by your dog’s Whistle FIT device.

Cutting a little deeper into the data of the “about average” respondents, we compared the average activity minutes of individual dogs to the segment average for that age and breed. We get the following distribution:


We’re considering anything between 75 - 125% of the average to be “about average”. Anything greater than 125% is “above average” and anything less than 75% is “below average”.

For example, if your dog is like Dennis, a German Shepherd-mix around 6 years old, he’ll fall into the Adult, Large Dog, Medium Energy segment. If Dennis’ owner says he is “about average” and he’s getting 24 minutes per day vs. the 80 minute segment average per day, he will fall into the 30% group on the distribution below:


It turns out that the “average” - and remember that every dog included in these graphs was categorized as “about "average” by their owner - is actually made up of some not-so-average dogs. 33% of the dogs examined in this analysis fell between 75% of the average and 125% of the average. But 34% of the dogs examined fell below 75% of the average:

PIP_Graph_3 (1).png

This means that 34% of these dog’s owners consider their dog’s activity levels as “about average” when in fact they are well below their segment’s average! This is a big opportunity for a reality check and an extra walk (or two).

But this knife cuts both ways. We also have a large group of participants who think of their dog as “about average,” but are actually well above average!


The big take away here is that most of us don’t have a great idea of what “average” actually is for our dog, and we make activity decisions - to walk? or not to walk? - based off of a perception that is more than likely not reality.


To learn more about how the activity information Whistle provided surprised some owners, we checked in with our project participants. This is what we heard back:

Pet Parent said about, Becksley, a male Australian Cattle Dog mix:
“Since having the Whistle I have actually been relieved, I was worried my pup was not getting enough exercise. With his Whistle I have been able to see that he is not only meeting goals but also resting a good amount as well. I absolutely love it! ”

Pet Parent said about Sif, a female Chihuahua mix:
“I figured Sif was playing a little during the day, barking at passers-by.  I have learned she is far less active than I thought and it is concerning.  I learned she sleeps... a lot.  I figured she takes naps throughout the day, but it looks like she sleeps at cat levels.”

Pet Parent says about Apollo, a male Cardigan Welsh Corgi Mix:
“While we set out on this journey thinking that Apollo might be running amok when we're away, it turns out he enjoys naps a lot more than we were expecting! While this is somewhat concerning, as we worry about his boredom, it has also been extremely helpful! We now are more aware of his need for extra play time and attention when we are home.”

Pet Parent says about Jurek, a male German Shorthaired Pointer:
“He accompanies me on my runs a few days a week, and could run forever; however, I’ve noticed that when he’s home alone, he doesn’t seem to do much of anything. During a full work day, he may only have 5-10 minutes of activity! He has full access to the house when we’re away, so this was totally unexpected and has really helped me gain the awareness that his exercise with me is even more important than I originally thought.”

Has your Whistle taught you anything new about your dog’s activity levels? Email us your story at, and include a picture of your dog. We’re always looking for stories (and photogenic dogs) to feature on our instagram: @petinsightproject. Thanks for reading, and happy walking!