Dogs provide unconditional love and teach owners about responsibility, and new research says they also may help children benefit from better social and emotional well-being.
The study was published Monday in the journal Pediatric Research.
“While we expected that dog ownership would provide some benefits for young children’s well-being, we were surprised that the mere presence of a family dog was associated with many positive behaviors and emotions,” said Hayley Christian, study co-author and associate professor at the University of Western Australia, in a news release.
Previous studies have shown that owning a dog encourages adults and children to exercise more often than if they didn’t own one, according to the researchers, but they note that dog ownership and its effects on child development have been understudied until now.
The team gave a questionnaire to 1,646 parents — of which 686 owned a dog — with preschoolers between 2 and 5 years old that asked them how often their child participated in walks or active play with the dog over three years’ time.
The parents were also asked to report their child’s social-emotional development, biological sex, sleep habits and screen time, according to the study.
“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,” the researchers said.
The study also found that children who played with their dog more often were more likely (74%) to “engage in considerate behaviours” than those who played with their dog less frequently.
It’s a win-win for the owner and dog, and the benefits are clear with a simple blood test.
“When we see, touch, hear or talk to our companion animals, beneficial neurohormones are released and that induces a sense of goodwill, joy, nurturing and happiness,” Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri, told NBC News.
Meanwhile, stress hormones are suppressed, Johnson said, and heart rate and blood pressure decrease as a result, helping people “manage stress in ways that aren’t harmful to our health.”
The authors said more research is needed to understand if different types of pets have the same effect or if a child’s level of attachment to the pet makes a difference in their development.