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Dogs May Be Good for Your Child's Development

Dogs can help kids develop better emotional and social behaviors

Photo by Seaq68 on Pixabay
Dogs are good for kids!
Source: Photo by Seaq68 on Pixabay

Growing up with a dog can teach kids a lot—responsibility, empathy, logistics, and fun. Kids who grow up with dogs often report loving their dogs more than they love their siblings! Dogs are sources of unconditional love, support, and a respite from the difficulties even young children face.

But dogs can do more than being a happy playmate and trusted confidant. New research shows they can play a role in improved childhood development.

A study released in the latest issue of Pediatric Research [1] shows that children with dogs may have fewer behavioral issues and improved emotional development over those who are dogless.

Researchers studied 1,646 families and asked if they had dogs. They then asked parents to fill out the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) that measures children's behavioral and emotional development based on their parents' observations. It includes statements like "Considerate of other people's feelings", "Nervous or clingy in new situations, easily loses confidence", and "Can be spiteful to others". Parents score their children on a 3-point scale of "not true", "somewhat true", and "certainly true".

Children who were growing up with dogs had many benefits over their dogless counterparts. Their scores on the SDQ showed the following:

  • Reduced likelihood of conduct problems
  • Fewer total difficulties
  • Increased likelihood of prosocial behavior
  • More family active play

Families who took their children and dogs on walks together saw even greater benefits in the behavioral space.

The researchers conclude that "these findings suggest having a dog and interacting with it through play and walking may be important mechanisms for facilitating young children’s social-emotional development." A friend, a workout partner, and a child development expert, dogs offer a lot to you and your kids.

This doesn't mean you should go right out and get a dog. As a person who rescues dogs, I see a lot of them given away because people don't have time to train, play with, and care for them as needed. This leads to a lot of stress and anxiety in the house, and potential confusion and sadness for a child when their pet is taken away. These difficulties can absolutely counteract the benefits that a dog would bring in to your home. Before you adopt, check out advice about what to plan for when you adopt a puppy or adult dog and some kid-specific guidelines about introducing a pet.


[1] Wenden, E.J., Lester, L., Zubrick, S.R. et al. The relationship between dog ownership, dog play, family dog walking, and pre-schooler social–emotional development: findings from the PLAYCE observational study. Pediatr Res (2020).

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