Everyone has heard that a dog is “man’s best friend,” but the truth is, they’re so much more than that.
Dogs are companions to both men and women. They’re valued members of a well-rounded family. They’re loyal, and in many cases, they bring a level of joy that rivals most other happy moments in life.
When it comes to bringing together dogs and children, some parents are skeptical.
What if my dog hurts my child? Will I be able to care for both a child and a dog?
The concerns are valid, but they overlook some very significant positive aspects of raising a child with a dog in the house.
Here are 13 reasons every kid needs a dog:
#1: Dogs can teach kids about responsibility.
There’s a lot parents can do to teach kids responsibility at a young age. It’s common to have children clean up their room, take out the trash, and do other chores around the house.
But what better way to teach a children responsibility than having to care for another living being?
It’s certainly more challenging.
What are some tasks you can assign to your child when it comes to caring for your dog?
- Feeding the dog on a set schedule
- Refilling the dog’s water bowl when empty
- Taking the dog on walks periodically
- Cleaning up after the dog
All of these tasks require discipline for a child, and if they can master these, they’ve come a long way with learning responsibility. Believe it or not...there are many adults who still haven’t quite mastered this level of responsibility!
#2: Dogs can help kids become more socialized.
Socializing your son and daughter doesn’t only involve interaction with other human beings. Dogs can play an important part too.
This link between dogs and the socialization of children is particularly clear with kids who have autism. Studies have shown that those kids with a house pet show greater social development than those who don’t.
It makes sense too - at an earlier age, when a child’s social skills are still developing, they are often a lot more sensitive. A dog is the perfect friendly companion that doesn’t judge, and only wants to be loved.
This type of relationship can help reinforce good social behavior and carry over into relationships with other children and adults.
#3: Dogs are great for encouraging exercise (which reduces health problems like heart disease).
For many years, childhood obesity (a contributing factor to heart disease) has been on the rise. The simplest resolution for this, of course, always comes down to a healthier diet and more exercise.
According to the American Heart Association, owning a dog may help prevent heart disease. The reason behind this is clear: Those who own dogs tend to spend more time outside, walking and running around.
Children love to run and play with dogs, so naturally, dog ownership is an excellent way to encourage exercise.
#4: Dogs can help prevent depression.
Image credit: Cia de Foto
Studies have shown that pets, and dogs in particular, can help people fight depression.
According to Ian Cook, MD (a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA), “Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression.”
Although depression can be a very serious illness at any age, it can be particularly harmful and scarring with children who are still developing.
#5: Dogs are good listeners.
One of the reasons that dogs are often referred to as “man’s best friend” is because of their unconditional love and support. Even when you feel like you have a problem that you can’t talk about to anyone else, dogs are always there to listen.
They don’t judge you. They don’t interrupt you. They listen.
Sure, they may not understand what you’re saying, but there is a psychological benefit to having someone or something there to listen to you. And this is especially true for children, who sometimes don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents or other adults.
#6: Kids who live with dogs don’t get sick as often.
The findings on kids who grow up with dogs and its effect on getting sick is actually pretty astounding:
One study finds that infants who lived in the same house with a dog during their first year of life were about one-third more likely to be healthy during that first year, compared to babies who didn't have a pet in the home.
One-third? That’s significant.
Furthermore, infants and young children with dogs in the home were 44% less likely to develop an ear infection, and 29% less likely to need antibiotics compared to those who don’t have a dog.
If there was ever a reason to get a dog for your kid, this one is certainly very compelling.
#7: Kids with dogs are less prone to allergies.
If helping your kids get sick less often isn’t enough, here’s another helpful health-related benefit.
A study reported in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy finds that infants who grow up with dogs are less likely to be allergic to dogs later on in life (the same goes for cats, but we’re not focused on them right now).
One important distinction that the study points out is that the dog must be in the home when the child is still an infant - after the first year, there appears to be no correlation between having the dog and a reduction in allergies.
Researchers don’t know for sure, but they suspect that while the child is an infant and is still developing its immune system, exposure to dog allergens and other dog-related bacteria actually strengthens the immune system and reduces the chances for future allergies to dogs.
Image credit: Tony Alter
#8: Dogs can help reduce stress for kids, particularly those with autism.
If you’ve ever owned a dog, as a kid or as an adult, you can understand the soothing feeling of petting a dog or watching it cuddle up in your lap. There’s something therapeutic about it, to a lot of people.
But is there any science to back it up?
One study does in fact find that dogs can help reduce stress, particularly with kids who have autism. According to Sonia Lupien, one of the study researchers and a professor at the University of Montréal, “Our findings showed that the dogs had a clear impact on the children's stress hormone levels...I have not seen such a dramatic effect before.”
#9: Pairing dogs with kids gives you, as a parent, lots of cute photo opportunities.
Let’s be honest - as a parent, there are few things that bring you joy as much as getting a cute photo of your kid.
And if you can add a dog (or even better, a puppy) to the equation, you’re set up perfectly for the cutest possible photo opportunity.
#10: Dogs can protect kids and keep them safe.
Those of you old enough to remember the classic TV show Lassie are probably familiar with this exchange:
“Bark! Bark-bark! Bark!”
“What is it, Lassie?”
“Bark! Bark-bark-bark! Bark-bark!”
“What, Timmy's fallen in the well?”
Lassie, a TV dog, was always portrayed as a supremely intelligent dog with the ability to sense danger and save a boy named Timmy.
Although that may seem far-fetched (okay, no more puns), it’s based somewhat in reality.
As most experienced dog trainers and those who study and understand dog socialization will tell you, dogs instinctively understand the concept of “family” (or more appropriately, their “pack”). Dogs learn who their family is and won’t hesitate to protect them.
The level of protection by a dog will vary by breed and training, but at a minimum, dogs will typically bark to alert their owners of anything they perceive as dangerous or a potential threat.
Once your dog has learned to live around your child and recognizes that the child is part of the “pack,” the dog will strive to keep him or her safe.
#11: Kids who live with dogs have lower risk of respiratory problems.
This one is somewhat related to #6 above, but relates specifically to respiratory problems.
Research from the journal Pediatrics found that kids who had a dog during their first year of life had 31% fewer respiratory tract infections than kids who didn’t live with a dog.
Similar to the points about about getting sick less frequently or reducing the risk of allergies, the reason that kids who live with dogs have a lower risk of respiratory problems is because of the additional exposure to bacteria the dog brings.
This doesn’t sound like a positive point on its face, but this exposure to bacteria helps strengthen the child’s immune system while it’s developing.
#12: Dogs teach kids about empathy and compassion.
Part of growing up to be a friendly, well-respected adult involves learning how to feel empathy and express compassion.
There’s a lot a parent can do to teach empathy and compassion (and most of it involves simply leading by example), but kids can actually learn a lot from dogs too.
An article from Webvet.com points out a few different research findings that support this claim:
- Researchers in Poland studied the impact of keeping dogs at home on the social development of 530 children between the ages of 4 and 8. Those children with dogs had higher scores in pro-social behavior and self-reliance than those without dogs.
- A study in Germany found that children 6-17 years old with diagnoses of anorexia, bulimia, anxiety disorder, and autism had improved behavior with a therapy dog than without one.
- A study in Australia concluded that animal-assisted preventive efforts are an optimal vehicle for promoting nurturing and empathy.
Dogs and children often form a bond that is reinforcing - children make dogs happy, and in turn, dogs can make children happy. And when one is feeling hurt or sad, the other can help.
This relationship is the very foundation of empathy and compassion.
#13: Dogs are...lots of fun!
Yes, I saved the best for last. As a dog owner ever since I was a little kid, I can attest to the fact that growing up with a dog was definitely one of the happiest and most memorable parts of my childhood.
That’s an experience I wouldn’t want to keep from my child or any other child.
Dogs provide endless fun and entertainment, and as the above list shows, there are a lot of great benefits that come along with all the fun.
Furthermore, having fun with a dog is an activity that can help you bond with you child, as you can play games together, care for the dog together, and overall, enjoy the time spent together.
What are you waiting for? Go get a dog!
The truth is, despite the many reasons to own a dog (and the benefits they can provide to a child), the decision to get a dog is still a big one.
Dogs require a lot of responsibility, and if your child hasn’t even been born yet, you’ll want to make sure you’ve taken the appropriate steps to get your dog ready for the baby.
But if your family has made the decision that you’re ready to get a dog - go for it. You’ll be really happy you did.
This article was written by Eric G., founder and author ofCynical Parent(a blog where he explores parenthood from a fresh perspective). For other unique, helpful parenting tips (and some more discussion on the interaction between dogs and kids), check out his blog.