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Science Proves It: Having A Dog Helps Kids Become Better Humans

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New research suggests that having a family dog with which pre-schoolers can interact, play with and walk may have fewer peer-to-peer problems and may be better sharers more likely to cooperate than children who do not have a family dog.

Hayley Christian is an Associate Professor at The University of Western Australia. She and her team have previously found that family pets might help prevent school-aged children from developing social-emotional problems, and this phenomenon was especially apparent in children with no human siblings.

Related: Family Dog Saves Two Girls Struck By Lightning

The new research found that children who were between the ages of 2-5 years and raised in dog-owning households where family dog walks or active dog play was present had reduced chances of poor peer problems. They found those children also exhibited more pro-social behaviors, like cooperating and sharing with others, than compared to children who were not raised in dog-owning families.

The research team found that the more the children played with or walked their family dog, the more of those pro-social and empathetic behaviors they saw. Professor Christian said that they’re learning that pet ownership has fantastic benefits for children’s social and physical development. Previous research suggested this to be the case for school-aged children, but their current research suggests that the benefits can start even sooner in the pre-school years.

The researchers found that the positive impact depended a lot on how often the children engaged with their family dog in walks or playtime. Younger children who did so and more often seemed to have better pro-social behaviors.

To come to these conclusions, they looked at almost 1,700 parents to see which families with pre-schoolers had dogs, and then how often the child went on family dog walks or played actively with their dogs. The parents completed a questionnaire about their children that measured their social-emotional development.

The children who came from dog-owning homes were found to be 30-40% less likely to have behavior or peer interaction problems, and 34% were found to be more likely to have pro-social behaviors than children who did not have a dog. They also found that more was better. In those dog-owning homes where family dog-walking happened at least once a week and active play time with the family dog was three or more times a week, the pre-schooler’s pro-social behaviors went up by a whopping 74%.

Christian said that the strength of dog ownership on the pre-schoolers’ behaviors was unexpected. They believed that there would be some benefits to the children’s social-emotional health and well-being, but were surprised that simply having a family dog and interacting could bring about so many positive emotions and positive behaviors.

Obviously, she and her team believe that there is more research to be done when it comes to figuring out just what aspects of dog ownership bring these benefits about, but team speculation is that the attachment between children and their dogs may be a strong factor. The strength of their relationships may be reflected in the time the children want to spend with their dog, and this may positively benefit their emotional and social development.

Related: 5 Benefits of Playing With Your Dog

This research gives weight to the value of being a pet family, in that we already know that pet ownership helps battle physical inactivity and obesity. Add in that having a family dog can help kids have better social and emotional health? Being a dog family is practically a no-brainer.

Steven Feldman is the Executive Director of the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). He said that the findings of Professor Christian and her team emphasized how important pets are in our lives, and how especially important they are in the lives of our children. He hopes that the research encourages families to consider the perks and benefits of dog ownership.


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