Everyone Knows Dogs Are Man’s Best Friend, But Are They Also A Kid’s Best Friend? Science Says Yes!
The many benefits of having a dog are no secret to most adult dog owners like me. Kilo the Pug is my pampered, snuggly, cute companion, muse, and walking buddy. My daughters call him “the favorite child”. They have grown up with multiple pets including dogs, as I did.
We are in production on a new half hour documentary exploring the research on dogs and kids for Talent Hounds and have just launched Kids’ Pet Club with facts and fun for pet-loving kids.
A dog is a lot of responsibility, and an investment of a family’s time, energy, and money. Certain dog breeds may be better suited to kids and your lifestyle so do your research before you get one.
Younger children and babies should be very carefully supervised with any pet but the positive effects can last a lifetime. My daughters grew up with Cookie the lab and Isabelle the lab mix. I grew up with Kim the rescue terrier mix.
Here are a few reasons why we think families should consider dog ownership for kids:
#1: Dogs Can Provide Companionship
#2: Dogs Can Encourage A More Active Lifestyle
#3: Dogs Can Teach Responsibility To Kids
No kid likes chores, but children can be encouraged to pick up more responsibility in a household by getting them involved in pet care. When chores are done for the sake of their pet, most kids are more likely to want to do them: especially when its fun things like going for a walk or giving their dog treats for tricks. Kids begin to learn that others can depend on them for their well-being, which is an important step to learning responsible habits.
Kids can even develop nurturing skills according to Gail F. Melson, PhD, developmental studies at Purdue University and the author of Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children. “People need a way to practice being caregivers when they’re young.”
#4: Kids May Feel More Comfortable Reading Aloud To A Pet
Literacy, and confidence in one’s ability to read, are extremely important. There is no better way to build up reading skills than reading aloud to a pet. Reading aloud can be quite daunting due to the added pressure of an audience. A dog listens but does not judge and does not correct mistakes. Patting a dog and the comforting presence can reduce stress and improve processing.
There has been much success with reading programs and dogs in schools and libraries, for example, with the COPE Reading Buddy Program, Gizmo’s Frens and the Therapy Pugs. Having a dog can provide a full time reading buddy.
#5: Cuddling A Pet May Reduce Stress
The most relaxing things in the world have tails and ears, according to science.
According to research by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Pet owners are less likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression than non-pet owners.”
Studies have shown that looking at and patting a puppy can lower levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure and raise levels of feel good hormones. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found evidence that humans who interact with dogs see an increase in their oxytocin levels which leads to a boost in mood.
“There’s lots of evidence now (we take physiological measures) that the touch of a familiar, friendly dog makes your breathing more regular and your heartbeat slows, and muscle tension goes down, and all those nasty corticosteroids, stress hormones, start to reduce. These are the same effects that you get in some of the anti-stress types of drugs. And it also explains one of the reasons why dogs are so comforting to us. They’re comforting to us because they’re actually causing the physiological change associated with stress reduction.” Dr. Stanley Coren- Psychology Professor, Neuropsychological Researcher, Author
Pets can be trained to help with autism, mental illness, anxiety and the symptoms of depression and PTSD. Kids and parents can often unwind better with their doggy-BFFs at their side.
#6: Children With Pets Have Better Social Skills
According to an article by the Pet Health Council, kids who have pets usually improve their social skills along with their self-esteem. Self-esteem is a hugely important part of a child’s development. According to the study, “children with low-self esteem may talk to, or confide in, an animal in ways they would not with people.”
If your child needs a bit of help developing and maintaining social bonds, a pet might act as a good first step in that direction.
#7: Dogs May Help Children Develop Empathy
Children tend to be self-focused. The ability to consider that other people have their own thoughts, feelings, and desires typically develops in a child between the ages of 4 and 5 and is the precursor to empathy. This is known as the “theory of mind” and it has been studied by social and developmental psychologists.
Empathy and emotional intelligence can be fostered and encouraged in a child in many ways, including through a pet. Psychologist Robert Poresky has shown a correlation between attachment to a pet and higher empathy scores.
#8 Exposure To Pets May Reduce The Chance of Allergies
According to a study by Dennis Ownby, MD, Pediatrician and Head of the Allergy and Immunology department of the Medical College of Georgia, having a dog might decrease your kid’s chance of developing an allergy.
A recent study conducted by the University of Alberta showed that babies with families who have pets showed higher levels of two types of gut microbes associated with lower rates of allergic disease.
“There’s definitely a critical window of time when gut immunity and microbes co-develop, and when disruptions to the process result in changes to gut immunity” says Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatric epidemiologist at the University of Alberta.
#9 Cute Puppy Playmates May Improve Learning And Behaviour.
Puppies are adorable and this factor may also help a child’s ability to reason and think complex thoughts. In a 1989 study by Joan F Goodman, toddlers with pets had better motor skills and cognitive development than those that lived in homes without pets.
A Japanese research paper, entitled “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus,” concluded that looking at cute images could boost attention to detail, overall performance and memory in their participants.
Therapy dogs have also shown incredible changes in focus, attention, and cooperation levels within classrooms.