Dogs and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly or cookies and milk. But beyond providing companionship, dogs provide health benefits for children, ranging from boosting their immune and cardiovascular systems to reducing stress and improving their self-esteem.
A variety of studies show the physical benefits of having a family dog, including improving the child’s immune system, reducing the risk of developing asthma, and encouraging physical activity, which boosts heart health and reduces the risk of obesity.
But parents shouldn’t discount the fact that dogs also provide emotional health benefits.
And having a dog at home also teaches children respect, responsibility, and more.
Parents need to choose a dog that is good with children or if they choose a breed like an Akita, start with a puppy and focus on training to ensure they become good family dogs.
Physical health benefits
Reduced risk of allergies and asthma
Children who live with dogs are less likely to develop allergies and asthma.
A study led by Dr. Dennis Ownby, the head of the allergy and immunology department of the Medical College of Georgia, shows having multiple pets decreases a child’s risk of developing specific allergies.
According to Parents.com, Ownby’s research tracked a group of 474 babies from birth to about age 7. He found that the children exposed to two or more dogs or cats as babies were less than half as likely to develop common allergies as kids who had no pets in the home.
Children who live with dogs reacted less to indoor allergens like dust—mite allergens and outdoor allergens such as ragweed and grass. Ownby told Parents.com that he suspects that when dogs or cats lick children, their saliva transfers bacteria to the child and that exposure may change how the child’s immune system responds to allergens.
A University of Alberta study shows babies from families with pets — 70 percent of which were dogs — exhibited higher levels of microbes that lowered the risk the children would develop allergies. According to the research, exposing children to dirt and bacteria — from a dog’s paws and coat — can create immunity.
According to a report about the survey by ScienceDaily.com, the Canadian study also builds on two decades of research that shows children who grow up with dogs have lower asthma rates, according to a report about the survey by ScienceDaily.com.
Improved heart health
Children with dogs tend to spend more time outdoors, both walking their dogs and playing with them.
A study from Sweden shows dog owners live longer because they are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. The study at Uppsala University in Sweden analyzed 12 years of health records for the 3.4 million people in that country. Results published in Scientific Reports.
Having a dog lets children start taking advantage of those cardiovascular benefits even sooner.
Emotional health benefits
According to the American Kennel Club, a collection of child-specific studies shows that having a dog can benefit a child’s emotional health. Dogs help children by boosting self-esteem, making them more compassionate and empathetic, improving cognitive skills, reducing stress, and making them happier.
Helping take care of the dog — whether it’s taking the dog for a walk, dumping food in his bowl, or brushing his coat — helps boost self-esteem. However, parents need to take care to make sure the task assigned to the child is age-appropriate and safe for both child and dog.
Researchers from the Bassett Medical Center of Cooperstown, New York, showed that children with a dog experience less anxiety.
Using the SCARED-5 test to screen for childhood anxiety disorders revealed only 12 percent of children with dogs suffered from anxiety compared to 21 percent of children without dogs.
A new study of 1,646 households with children ages 2 to 5 shows young children who have family dogs are 23 percent less likely to have social interaction problems than children who grow up without one. The study also indicates children with dogs were 34 percent more likely to be considerate and share or help others. The researchers noted it could just be a coincidence and that families with both children and dogs are more nurturing.
Another study shows how the chid-canine connection by using saliva samples to measure how spending time with dogs reduces children’s cortisol levels. Twice-weekly sessions with a dog and its handler were more effective than guided meditation to reduce stress.
The bottom line on how dogs provide health benefits for children
Dogs are good for kids. Dogs offer health benefits for children that range from the physical — helping keep kids more active — to the emotional — reducing stress and anxiety while boosting self-esteem. Just be sure you get a dog that suits your family and always supervise interactions between dogs and children, especially during the early bonding.
Sara B. Hansen has spent 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She’s also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. She decided to create her dream job by launching Dog’s Best Life in 2011. Sara grew up with family dogs, and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She shares her heart and home with Nutmeg, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Her previous dogs: Sydney (September 2008-April 2020), Finley (November 1993-January 2008), and Browning (May 1993-November 2007). You can reach Sara @ [email protected].