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How Pet Dogs Improve Social-Emotional Development In Kids 

Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager By Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Girl Holding a Golden Retriever Puppy

Dogs have long been known as "man's best friend," but according to new research, they may also teach children how to develop their own friendships. A study published in the journal Pediatric Research found that young kids with pet dogs have better social and emotional skills than those without. 

Learning from our furry friends.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Western Australia, pulled data from 1,646 households, each with children between 2 and 5 years old. Of the group, 686 were dog owners. 

The data looked at children's physical activity and social-emotional development, accounting for potential behavioral influences, like age, sleeping patterns, screen time, and more. Given that information, kids with dogs were 23% less likely to struggle with their emotions and social interactions than kids without dogs. 

Additionally, kids who joined their families on dog walks at least once a week were 36% less likely to struggle socially and emotionally. The greatest impact, however, came with playtime. Kids who played with their dogs at least three times per week were 74% more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors, like sharing. 

While there seems to be a clear link between dog ownership and a child's social and emotional development, the researchers were unable to determine exactly why.

"Our findings indicate that dog ownership may benefit children's development and well-being," co-author Hayley Christian, Ph.D., said in a news release, "and we speculate that this could be attributed to the attachment between children and their dogs." In other words, the more time a child spends with their dog, walking or playing, the greater their attachment will be. That relationship may promote social-emotional development.


The takeaway.

For parents out there, this study suggests acquiescing to your child's requests for a pup might be worth consideration, especially for only children or kids who tend to be shier and could use more time with a lovable four-legged friend.

Don't have children? Well, owning a dog may affect adults' physical activity, mental health, and heart health, too. For all the cat people out there: Don't fret. More research—especially on other types of pets—is needed to gain a more thorough understanding of these findings.

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