Children living in a family that has a dog when they are aged between two and five show better ‘social and emotional wellbeing’ than non-pet owning homes, study shows
- Authors studied questionnaires from more than 1,640 households with children
- Children from dog-owning households less likely to have emotional problems
- This trend also carried over to social interactions and other wellbeing traits
Children from a dog-owning household show signs of better social and emotional wellbeing than children from households that don’t own a dog, research suggests.
A team of experts from the University of Western Australia studied questionnaires filled in by more than 16,40 households that included children aged two to five.
After considering the age, biological sex, sleep habits, screen time and parental education levels, they examined the impact of a dog on young children.
Children from dog-owning homes were 23 per cent less likely to have difficulties with emotions and social interactions than children who did not own a dog.
A team of experts from the University of Western Australia studied questionnaires filled in by more than 16,40 households that included children aged two to five. Stock image
The authors analysed data collected between 2015 and 2018 as part of the Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity (PLAYCE) 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 owned a dog.
Children from dog-owning households were 30 per cent less likely to engage in antisocial behaviours, the study authors discovered in the dataset.
They also found that 40 per ent were less likely to have problems interacting with other children, and were 34 per cent more likely to engage in considerate behaviours, such as sharing.
Associate Professor Hayley Christian, the corresponding author said it was interesting to see how much of a difference dog ownership made.
‘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,’ she said.
Even among dog-owning households there was a difference depending on how involved children were in looking after their pet.
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.
Children from dog-owning homes were 23 per cent less likely to have difficulties with emotions and social interactions than children who did not own a dog. Stock image
Christian said their findings seem to suggest that dog ownership may benefit children’s development and wellbeing.
‘We speculate that this could be attributed to the attachment between children and their dogs,’ the lead author explained.
‘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.’
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.
They say 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 over their life.
The research has been published in the journal Pediatric Research.