Many of us who own dogs know that they’re the reason that our house feels like a home. There are so many wonderful perks that come with owning a dog. You have a built-in home security system that never fails. You’ve got a personal hoover to clean up after you in the kitchen. While there are endless ways that a dog can have an impact on your life, perhaps the biggest and most significant one is that you’ve got a constant companion who loves you. And that love isn’t just reserved for one member of the household. A dog brings love and joy to all – especially the children.
Now a study published in Pediatric Research is revealing something pretty extraordinary about the perks that come from having a dog interact with your kids. As CNN reports, studies are showing that toddlers who are walking and playing around with the family dog during their formative years will experience better mental, physical, and emotional health and wellbeing than their non-dog-owning counterparts.
When observing how this emotional growth was handled in a classroom setting, researchers found that kids who were from families were dogs were more likely to display positive behaviors such as playing well with others and in general just getting along better with their peers. The study was based off a survey of 1,646 parents who had toddlers, and its aim was to determine how early home and environmental factors – such as being around dogs – would affect the children as they developed. After collecting data it was found that toddlers growing up in homes with dogs were 30% less likely to have tantrums, get into fights, or display other anti-social behaviors than the toddlers who didn’t grow up with dogs.
Besides showing a better emotional intelligence, the toddlers exposed to dogs also exhibited higher levels of empathy – something researchers picked up from the fact they were more like to try and help sick or hurt peers. And the toddlers who interacted with dogs at least three times per week or helped to walk the family dog once per week were shown to have the highest “pro-social” traits out of all the toddlers. The researchers shared, “These results highlight that even a small to moderate commitment to involving preschoolers in time spent walking with the family dog may provide important social and emotional benefits for young children.”
While all the responsibility of having a dog always falls on the parents, it’s still nice to know that there is so much empathy and emotional intelligence that little kids can learn from spending time with a dog.
One pediatrics professor wasn’t a part of the study, but after it was released, Dr. Jenny Radesky was confident to say that the results definitely made a lot of sense. She stated, “This was a nice example of how, even in the youngest kids, a dog can be a positive influence on their behavior. You have to work to read what your dog is thinking and respond to their behavior. That gets kids out of their headspace and more thinking about what another being is thinking.”
Dr. Radesky added, “That’s [the magical factor] of empathy and social reciprocity, meaning the back and forth of relationships that helps us heal during times of stress.”
Since there is nothing quite as stressful as living through a pandemic, having a dog would definitely afford kids a chance to continue their social and emotional development from home. As the study’s lead author, Hayley Christian, shared, animals are “social enablers and help teach children about responsibility through caring, training and looking after their pet.” Christian is an associate professor and research fellow studying child development at The University of Western Australia. Most of us who have dogs at home with our kids can probably relate to the study’s findings. What do you think about what the researchers say about early childhood development and dogs? Are you surprised or unsurprised by the results? Let us know!