Young children who grow up in households with a pet dog have better social and emotional wellbeing than children from households that do not own a dog, according to new research.
For the new study, a team of researchers at the University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute at Perth Children’s Hospital in Australia analyzed questionnaire data from 1,646 households that included children between the ages of two and five years.
The researchers discovered that, after taking into account a variety of factors, such as the children’s age, biological sex, sleep habits, screen time and parents’ education levels, children from households that had a pet dog were 23% less likely to have overall difficulties with their emotions and social interactions than children from households that did not own a dog.
The researchers also discovered that children from households that owned a dog were 30% less likely to engage in antisocial behaviors, 40% less likely to have problems interacting with other children, and 34% more likely to engage in considerate behaviors, such as sharing.
“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 behaviors and emotions,” said Hayley Christian, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia and corresponding author of the study.
The study also found that, among children from dog-owning households, those who joined their family on walks with the dog at least once a week were 36% less likely to have poor social and emotional development than those who walked with their family dog less than once a week.
Children who played with their family dog three or more times a week were 74% more likely to regularly engage in considerate behaviors than those who played with their dog less than three times a week, the study also discovered.
“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,” said Christian. “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.”
To examine children’s social and emotional development and its possible association with family dog ownership, the researchers analyzed data collected between 2015 and 2018 as part of the Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity (PLAYCE) study. During the study, parents of children aged two and five years completed a questionnaire assessing their child’s physical activity and social-emotional development. Out of the 1,646 households included in the study, 686 — or 42% — owned a dog.
The researchers 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 researchers concluded.
The new study was published in the journal Pediatric Research.