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The relationship between children and their pets is special and comforting. Many adults who spent their youth and childhood caring for a dog love sharing funny stories and touching moments about their beloved pets. The many lifelong benefits of having a dog are easy to recognize. But did you know scientists have researched the difference a pet can make in a person's early years, and have found numerous benefits from increased emotional intelligence to a decreased risk of allergies?
Adopting a dog is a big decision, and of course a lot of responsibility — and choosing the right dog for your family and lifestyle takes careful consideration. But giving a dog their forever home can especially benefit the children in your life. Benefits to children of having a dog can include higher self-esteem, improved social skills, developing nurturing skills, deeper empathy and a more caring attitude.
Having a dog can make the whole family healthier, but did you know a canine companion can provide unique benefits to children?
Research indicates that through brisk walking, pregnant dog owners were approximately 50% more likely to achieve the recommended 30 minutes of activity per day. So, not only is having a dog around a great source of love, affection and comfort — having a pet in the home while your family is expecting can help everyone feel healthy and active!
“We are increasingly seeing that exercising with a dog can lead to improved motivation and effectiveness … As a low-risk exercise, dog walking can help women, who may otherwise find it hard to meet their exercise targets, keep active and fit during pregnancy. Together with a balanced diet, it could therefore help toward ensuring a healthy pregnancy.” —Dr. Sandra McCune, research program manager at The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition.*
A baby's first year is full of important health and development milestones. Would it surprise you to learn having a dog in the home during that year could help your baby develop a stronger immune system? Children who interact with dogs during the first year of their lives have a lower frequency of allergies and asthma. Babies who have close contact with dogs also tend to get sick less often in that first year.
The benefits go beyond newborns, too: Pet owners of all ages have a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, fewer minor illnesses and complaints, and visit the doctor less often than their "petless" counterparts.
Caring for dogs of course means living in proximity to common canine allergens: dander, hair, saliva and even the microbes dogs often carry home from the outside world. Early exposure to these potential allergens is thought to support infants' immune system and decrease the risk of developing allergies. Of course, if you notice any signs of allergic reactions, reach out to your doctor — your dog has no desire to make anyone itch!
Adults, children and everyone in between can benefit from getting a healthy amount of exercise. High-energy dogs can keep up with even the most energetic kids, and even calm older dogs enjoy a good walk or a bit of light-impact, joint-friendly playtime. Regular walks outside are one of the simplest ways to bolster health and well-being for humans of all ages. Dogs are happy to give you a reason to get outside together and enjoy the fresh air!
The physical health benefits of children growing up with dogs are impressive, but so are the mental and emotional benefits. A dog's friendship in a child's life can make a major difference in their well-being and their mental development. Here are just a few of the specific ways dogs can help children grow emotionally and develop into healthy, happy adults.
Caring for a pet is a big responsibility, and when children grow up with a dog, they learn life lessons — including how to be responsible — in early childhood. While adults and older siblings can make sure the family dog gets all the care they need, even young children can help with simple tasks like brushing, getting ready for walks, feeding and even training your dog. As children get older, they can take on responsibilities like walking, bathing, giving medication or taking the family pet to the vet.
By gradually increasing the amount of pet care your child is responsible for, you can help them develop a sense of pride as they learn to be nurturers a little at a time and learn the importance of caring for someone else.
Caring for a pet does more than teach your child about responsibility; it helps them grow emotionally, too. Studies have shown that contact with a family dog develops nurturing behavior in children, encouraging them to show empathy and enhance positive self-esteem.
Children who have a pet dog are also less likely to suffer from feelings of isolation and loneliness. Canine companionship gives them a furry friend to rely on and helps them develop the ability to understand friendship and connect well with others from an early age.
Research shows that families spend a lot more time interacting after they bring a new pet home, and pets provide a focus for fun activities and friendly conversations. In a study conducted by Texas A&M University, 70% of families surveyed reported an increase in family happiness and fun after adopting a dog. And what could be better for kids than a happier home with the family they love?
Just about any way you look at it, owning a dog can be a delightful family experience that helps children grow up healthy and happy. Kids who grow up with dogs in their family have the chance to learn important life lessons, grow emotionally, develop healthy habits and bond with the human members of the family in fun, meaningful ways.
And while it's up to the adults in the family to teach children how to behave around dogs and understand their needs, adults also benefit from having dogs in the home. If you're considering bringing a dog into your family's life, adopting a dog from a local shelter is a great option. You can learn all about the personalities of dog breeds you're likely to find at a shelter, and what steps you can take to train your new dog and help them adjust to life with you in their forever home.
*Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).
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