Recent research tells us that over a quarter of households with children also had a pet dog even before the great pandemic puppy boom. More and more parents are taking on the challenge of raising children and dogs simultaneously, but does this make for double the trouble, or is it rather a case of killing two birds with one stone?
In this post, we check out the words of experts and the facts and figures from scientific studies to explore the advantages of bringing up kids and dogs together and how it can be mutually beneficial in cognitive development.
What the studies say
A Pediatric Research study in 2020 found that children with a pet dog were 30% less likely to have conduct problems and 40% less likely to experience problems getting along with their classmates and peers. One of the study’s authors, Hayley E. Christian, summarized:
“Owning a dog comes with responsibilities and costs. But both anecdotal reports and research show that the benefits outweigh the costs.”
Other studies suggest that owning a dog can be advantageous to a child’s overall physical and mental health. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics looked at over half a million children and discovered that exposure to dogs in the home resulted in a 13% lower risk of asthma and a lesser chance of developing allergies in general due to a boosted immune system.
Shortly after this, another study found that amongst 6- and 7-year-olds, far fewer who lived with a dog tested positive for clinical anxiety than those without a pet dog. One of the authors, Dr. Anne Gadomski, highlighted how special a dog could be to a child:
“Sometimes their first word is the name of their pet… From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants.”
What the experts say
TV’s The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, believes young children can learn a lot about life from their pet dog and recommends bringing them up in the family “pack” together. Millan says:
“Instinct allows us to appreciate integrity. Trust, respect, and loyalty are what a dog represents. Kids should be around dogs from an early age — before five — so they develop this instinctive side.”
Victoria Stilwell, star of TV’s It’s Me or the Dog, preaches about the parallels between raising a dog and raising a child:
“Studies have shown conclusively that dogs enjoy the cognitive abilities of a two-year-old child… Just as a small child needs his parents to guide him, so does a dog, no matter his age, require the guidance of his human companion to get the best start in life… While I am aware of the difference, as I have both children and dogs, I am also aware of the similarities, as I want to see both become responsible as they mature.”
5 ways to help kids and dogs bond
Dog Behaviorist Nick Jones suggests five important things to always keep in mind when developing a bond between your child and the family pooch. They are:
1. Research child-friendly dogs
While there are similarities, no two dog breeds are the same, and each has its own inherent characteristics going back millennia. Some dogs were historically bred to hunt, others to herd sheep, and so on, and because of these in-built personality traits, some breeds are naturally friendlier towards children than others. Don’t take any chances or go with your gut: do your research before pairing kids and dogs.
2. Get kids involved in dog care
Children can be involved in many of the key parts of raising a puppy. Letting your child feed the dog or give it water can help the dog form positive associations in its mind, as well as teaching your child about responsibility and daily routines. Getting the child involved in command training and playtime at the park is beneficial for both kids and dogs.
3. Create positive associations with pets
Having kids involved in your dog’s daily routine can help strengthen their bond, but using the dog as a focal point elsewhere can also benefit your child’s overall development.
Having a pet can be a wonderful impetus to nurture your child’s creative impulses; encouraging your child to write a story or a poem or paint a picture of their dog can help them develop key literary and artistic skills while professing their love for their beloved dog.
Furthermore, a personalized dog book can, via a personal and relatable story, be a great way to get your child interested in reading, something crucial to their lifelong earning potential.
4. Set clear boundaries
With any luck, your child and dog will be like two peas in a pod as they grow together. However, it is imperative to remember that those two peas are actually very different. Dogs are pack animals with different rules and ways to humans (they don’t understand English, for one!), and there are some things that a dog won’t tolerate.
Teaching your child about this is extremely important, and helping them to recognize when your dog is stressed or anxious will be extremely helpful in the long run. If your children are particularly young, be sure to always supervise them around any dog, just in case.
5. Intervene when necessary
Even if they get on like a house on fire, it is worth remembering that dogs and children age and mature at very different rates. Dogs thrive on routine and often don’t appreciate the unexpected; a change in your child’s behavior may irritate them, as will any pain or underlying health issues they may be experiencing (which may be completely invisible to you at first).
In any case, if you ever witness or sense any tension or aggression from a dog to a child, be sure to intervene swiftly to prevent the situation from escalating before taking the necessary steps (such as consulting a vet) to rectify any larger problems from manifesting.