Science: Dogs may improve kids’ bonds with family and friends

The bond between a kid and their dog could almost be called legendary at this point. Movies about these dynamic duos basically have their own genre. And while plenty of research has been done about how having pets affects childhood development, until now, nobody has really looked at how having a pet dog influences, or is influenced by, a child’s other relationships.

In a recent study, researchers took a side-by-side look at three relationships: child-dog, child-parent, and child-best friend. They found that kids who have a strong bond with their dogs in turn have tighter ties with their parents and besties.

The researchers questioned 99 dog-owning kids aged nine to 11 about their relationships with their dogs, parents and friends. Most of the kids who described a high-quality relationship with their dogs also reported feeling very close to their moms, dads and friends, noting fewer conflicts and listing more positive qualities about the people in their lives than the kids who didn’t have strong bonds with their dogs.

The researchers also observed kids talking to and petting (or ignoring) their dogs at home. Kids who more frequently hugged, petted and had physical contact with their dogs especially had stronger relationships with their mothers.

“Given that mothers play a bit more of a role as a safe haven, as the one to go to for comfort, than dad, perhaps that’s why we found that effect,” researcher Kathryn Kerns told The Washington Post. “The close relationship with the mother might be more of a model for closeness with others, including the dog.”

A stress test was also conducted with the same group of kids. Each kid presented a five-minute autobiographical speech to the researchers — and most stressfully (to the ones who get stage fright, at least) a video camera. Kids whose dogs were in the room with them during the presentation had an easier time of it — even more so than if a parent was in the room. This was especially true if Fido sat up against the kid, or rested his chin in their lap.

“Kids who had their dogs present felt much happier throughout the whole process,” Kerns said.

The researchers don’t suggest running out to get a dog just for the sake of it, due to the stresses and costs of caring for a pet. But The Washington Post suggests some ways dog owners might keep their dogs present to help in everyday stressful situations, like letting the dog join in on the ride to the first day of a new school, or having the dog sit in on important family announcements.

The researchers suggest that pets can provide companionship, emotional support in difficult situations, stress reduction and a sharp boost to self-esteem. The study authors say that, with approximately 65% to 75% of kids having pets, it’s important to understand how animals affect childhood development, and that perhaps having pets is truly beneficial for kids when learning how to make friends and show affection.

So there you go, kids. Print this blog post out and show it to mom and dad next time you have the “Can we get a dog?” conversation. We hope it helps!

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