Dogs May Help Improve Social Development in Young Children, Study Says

“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 behaviours and emotions.”
ByNehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
Jul 2020

According to a new study published in the journal Pediatric Research, young children who grow up with dogs may have better social and emotional wellbeing.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute, used questionnaire data from 1,646 households with kids ranging from 2 to 5 years old. Of these homes, 686, or 42 percent, owned a dog. Researchers looked at the kids’ age, biological sex, sleeping habits, screen time and the parents’ education level.

They found that kids from houses that owned dogs were 23 percent less likely to have overall difficulties with their emotions or social interactions when compared to kids who did not own a dog. Plus, they were also 30 percent less likely to engage in antisocial behaviours and 40 percent less likely to have issues when interacting with other kids, but 34 percent more likely to be considerate and engage in behaviors such as sharing. This number rose to 74 percent if the kids played with their dog three or more times a week.

The researchers also looked at how often these kids joined their family on dog walks. They found that kids who joined the walks at least once a week were 36 percent less likely to have poor social development.

“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 behaviours and emotions,” Hayley Christian, corresponding author of the study and associate professor said in a press release. “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.”

While the findings are interesting, the authors caution the study was observational and not able to establish a direct cause and effect relationship between dog ownership and emotional development in young kids. More research needs to be done to determine exactly how pet ownership may help influence a young child’s development.

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