Picture this: you've had a long, hard day at work. Nothing has gone right, everyone seems to be angry at you for one reason or another, you realized you lost your wallet when you went to pay for the coffee that you then spilled all over your coat, and you hit massive traffic on the way home at the end of the day.
But then you open the front door and you hear the familiar sound of four paws making their way to greet you. By the time the door is closed, your favorite ball of fur — Fluffy— is standing at your feet, wagging his tail, so thrilled you're home he can barely contain his excitement. You bend down, scratch Fluffy's head, let him lick your face and suddenly, you feel like everything is going to be OK, no matter how crappy your day was.
Sure, it sounds like a greeting card commercial, but those feelings of happiness and the dissipation of worry are real. That's right: dogs make us humans less anxious.
Though several studies have already proven the physical benefits of having pets like dogs, a new one published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that dogs specifically help make humans less anxious, especially children.
The researchers studied 643 kids, aged six to seven, who were all enrolled in pediatric primary care in New York. Before annual checkups, the parents of these children were asked to fill out a survey that included a range of lifestyle questions, like how much screen time they usually had, diet, physical activity and pets.
More than half of the children — 58% — lived in households with dogs, and based on the survey answers and medical records, only 12% of those kids had the potential for childhood anxiety. Of the kids who didn't have dogs, that number rose to 21%, despite factoring in variables like income and family structure.
“Significant differences between groups were found for the separation anxiety component (‘My child is afraid to be alone in the house’) and social anxiety component (‘My child is shy’) favoring pet ownership,” the researchers wrote. “ ... Families with pets may be more stable and may be more affluent, but the researchers suggest there’s more to it than that. A pet dog can stimulate conversation, an ice-breaking effect that can alleviate social anxiety via a social catalyst effect.”
While the researchers noted this could be an example of correlation without definitive causation, it certainly gives dog-less kids a strong argument in favor of adding a puppy to the family. How could parents possibly argue with science?
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