How does handling dogs affect children?
Small children from households with dogs have a better social and emotional well-being than children from households without dogs. A study examined possible reasons for these positive effects.
A recent study by the University of Western Australia found that children from families with dogs seem to benefit from improved social and emotional development. The results were published in the English-language specialist journal "Pediatric Research".
Data from 1,646 households were analyzed
For the study, data from questionnaires from 1,646 households in which children aged two to five years lived were evaluated. It was previously assumed that owning a dog would bring some benefits for the well-being of small children, but the effects that were found were, according to the researchers, very surprising: the mere presence of a family dog is associated with many positive behaviors and emotions.
686 households had a dog
In order to investigate the social and emotional development of children and their possible connection to family dogs, data were analyzed that were collected between 2015 and 2018. Parents of children between the ages of two and five completed questionnaires to assess their child's physical activity and social and emotional development. Of the 1,646 households included in the study, 686 (42 percent) owned a dog.
Do dog walks improve social behavior?
Children from households with dogs who walked the dog at least once a week were 36 percent less likely to experience poor social and emotional development than children who walked their dog less than once a week.
Playing with the dog makes you more considerate
Children who played with their dog three or more times a week were 74 percent more likely to be considerate when compared to children who played with the family dog less than three times a week.
Children with dogs had less emotional difficulties
Children from households with dogs also had a 23 percent lower risk of general difficulties with emotions and social interactions compared to children without a dog in the family, even taking into account age, biological gender, sleeping habits, screen time and educational level of the parents.
Other advantages for children from household with a dog
In addition, children from households with a dog were 30 percent less likely to have antisocial behaviors, 40 percent less likely to have problems with other children, and 34 percent more considerate behaviors, the researchers report.
Dog favored development and well-being
The results suggest that dog ownership can benefit children's development and wellbeing. The research group speculates that this could be due to the bond between children and their dogs. Stronger bonds between children and their pets could be related to the time they play and walk together. This could promote social and emotional development.
More research is needed
Since this was an observational study, the researchers were unable to determine the exact mechanism by which dog ownership can promote social and emotional development in young children. Further research should therefore analyze the potential impact of owning different pets on children's development. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Elizabeth J. Wenden, Leanne Lester, Stephen R. Zubrick, Michelle Ng, Hayley E. Christian: The relationship between dog ownership, dog play, family dog walking, and pre-schooler social – emotional development: findings from the PLAYCE observational study, in Pediatric Research (published July 6, 2020), Pediatric Research