Pet dogs may improve social-emotional development in young children

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Young children from dog-owning households have better social and emotional wellbeing than children from households who do not own a dog, suggests research published in the journal Pediatric Research.

A team of researchers at the University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute utilised questionnaire data from 1,646 households that included children aged two to five years. The researchers found that, after taking into account children’s age, biological sex, sleep habits, screen time and parents’ education levels, children from dog-owning households were 23% 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% less likely to engage in antisocial behaviours, 40% less likely to have problems interacting with other children, and were 34% more likely to engage in considerate behaviours, such as sharing.

Associate Professor Hayley Christian, the corresponding author said: “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.”

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

Associate Professor Hayley Christian said: “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. 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 authors analysed 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 between 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 (42%) owned a dog.

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.

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Springer Nature

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Notes to editor:

1. Research article:

The relationship between dog ownership, dog play, family dog walking, and pre-schooler social-emotional development: findings from the PLAYCE observational study

Pediatric Research 2020

DOI: 10.1038/s41390-020-1007-2

For an embargoed copy of the article please contact Deborah Kendall at Springer Nature.

After the embargo lifts, the article will be available here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41390-020-1007-2

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article.

2. Pediatric Research publishes original translational research papers, invited reviews, and commentaries on the etiologies and treatment of diseases of children and disorders of development, extending from basic science to epidemiology and quality improvement.

3. This research was funded by the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation (Healthway) and the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI).

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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