Pet dogs can improve social-emotional development in young children


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Dogs are incredible family members, and not just because they’re fun. Owning a dog can also be beneficial for children. Dog ownership can teach children about responsibility, help them process their feelings, and improve their health.

There are various benefits of having a pet dog. Now, scientists from the University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute have added one more benefit to the list. According to their new study, Young children from dog-owning households have better social and emotional wellbeing.

For the study, scientists used survey data assessing child’s physical activity and social-emotional development from 1,646 households that included children aged two to five years. Considering children’s age, gender, sleep habits, screen time, and parents’ education levels, scientists found that children from dog-owning households were 23% less likely to have overall difficulties with their emotions and social interactions than children who did not own a dog

Children from dog-owning households were 30% less likely to engage in antisocial behaviors, 40% less likely to have problems interacting with other children. They were 34% more likely to engage in considerate acts, such as sharing.

Among children from dog-owning households, those who joined their family on dog walks at least once per week were 36% less likely to have poor social and emotional development than those who walked with their family dog less than once per week. Children who played with their family dog three or more times per week were 74% more likely to regularly engage in considerate behaviors than those who played with their dog less than three times per week.

Associate Professor Hayley Christian, the corresponding author, said: “While we expected that dog ownership would provide some benefits for young children’s wellbeing, we were surprised that the mere presence of a family dog was associated with many positive behaviors and emotions.”

“Our findings indicate that dog ownership may benefit children’s development and wellbeing, and we speculate that this could be attributed to the attachment between children and their dogs. Stronger attachments between children and their pets may be reflected in the amount of time spent playing and walking together, and this may promote social and emotional development.”

The authors caution that due to the observational nature of the study, they were not able to determine the exact mechanism by which dog ownership may benefit social and emotional development in young children or to establish cause and effect. Further research should assess the potential influence of owning different types of pets or the influence that children’s attachment to their pets may have on child development.

Journal Reference:
  1. Hayley Christian et al. The relationship between dog ownership, dog play, family dog walking, and pre-schooler social-emotional development: findings from the PLAYCE observational study. Pediatric Research, 2020. DOI: 10.1038/s41390-020-1007-2


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