Does your child constantly beg you for a family dog? New research from The University of Australia and the Telethon Kids Institute suggests you might want to say, “Yes!” for their better emotional health.
There’s new research out that suggests having a family dog is a great way to help develop your child’s social-emotional health. It also suggests that dog ownership can promote better behaviors in younger children learning about pro-social actions. Yes, having a dog can help kids be kinder.
The research was published in the July Journal of Pediatric Research. Hayley Christian is an Associate Professor at The University of Western Arizona, and in a sub-study funded by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), she and her team with the Telethon Kids Institute found that dog ownership really is good for kids. They also found that the benefits of having a family dog can start as early as pre-school age, which is earlier than other previous research has suggested.
While earlier research has identified that family pets may help protect school-aged children–particularly those with no siblings– from developing social-emotional problems, this new research shows that preschoolers who have a family dog and interact with play or dog walking also have reduced likelihoods of poor peer relationships and behaviors. They also are more likely to have increased pro-social behaviors like cooperating with others and sharing.
The researchers looked at the survey results of nearly 1700 parents and determined which homes with preschoolers had a family dog. They looked at how often the preschoolers actively played with their dog or went on family dog walks. They also had parents complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, which is used to measure a child’s social-emotional development.
Surprising Results: Having A Dog Helps Kids Be Kinder And Behave Better
While they expected to see positive relationships, they were surprised at just how positive the correlations were. They were surprised at how the ‘mere presence’ of a family dog was associated with positive emotions and behaviors.
They found that children who had dogs in their homes were 30-40% less likely to have behavior or peer problems than children who did not have a dog. Additionally, they found those children were 34% more likely to have pro-social behaviors like sharing and turn-taking than did children without a dog.
They also found that more was better, at least when it came to active play sessions and dog walking. In those families that walked their dog at least once a week and played actively with the dog three or more times a week, the preschoolers’ pro-social behaviors shot up by 74%!
Christian said that the strength of the beneficial impact of having a dog significantly rose based on how often the children walked or played with their dogs, and the more evident the pro-social behaviors were.
The team didn’t pin down the exact reasoning behind the beneficial relationships, and to do so would require more research. They speculated that the positive behaviors and social-emotional development could likely be attributed to the attachment that the children had to their dogs.
Helping Kids Be Kinder: Attachments Matter
The more children play with and walk their dogs, the stronger their attachments are likely to be, and the research team believes it’s this attachment that may promote the increased social and emotional development.
These findings add on to the fact that having a pet helps combat childhood physical inactivity and obesity, and let’s be real–it’s way more fun to play with a puppy than an electronic tablet.
Steve Feldman is the Executive Director of HABRI and said that the findings show how important pet ownership is, and especially in the lives of children. He hopes the positive benefit relationship is the motivation for more families to consider pet ownership and to bring family dogs into the lives of children.
So, what are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present, and your wee ones will think you’re the best thing since jam on toast. No need to tell them that you’re doing it to help them be better humans!