Pet dogs may improve social-emotional skills in young kids

Young children from dog-owning households have better social and emotional wellbeing compared to those who do not own a dog, say researchers.

For the findings, published in the journal Pediatric Research, the research team utilised questionnaire data from 1,646 households that included children aged two to five years.

Out of the 1,646 households included in the study, 686 (42 per cent) owned a dog.

“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,” said study researcher Hayley Christian from the University of Western Australia.

The researchers found that children from dog-owning households were 23 per cent 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 per cent less likely to engage in antisocial behaviours, 40 per cent less likely to have problems interacting with other children.

The study also showed that children from dog-owning households were 34 per more likely to engage in considerate behaviours, such as sharing.

Among children from dog-owning households, those who joined their family on dog walks at least once per week were 36 per cent 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 per cent more likely to regularly engage in considerate behaviours than those who played with their dog less than three times per week.

“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,” Christian said.

“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,” Christian added.

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,” the authors wrote.

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