Having a pet dog at home is likely to provide valuable social support when a child is undergoing a stressful experience, recent research suggests.
The results showed that children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support.
“Middle childhood is a time when children’s social support figures are expanding beyond their parents, but their emotional and biological capacities to deal with stress are still maturing,” said Darlene Kertes, Assistant Professor at the University of Florida, in the US.
Further, children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be petted or stroked had lower levels of cortisol — a biological marker of the body’s stress response — compared to children who engaged their dogs less, Kertes said.
For the study, published in the journal Social Development, the team recruited approximately 100 pet-owning families and analysed children between the ages of 7 to 12 years.
Another study, published in the journal Animals, showed that a family dog could help boost physical activity for kids with disabilities.
In the study, the researchers found that the family dog led to a wide range of improvements for a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy — a congenital disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture — including physical activity as well as motor skills, quality of life and emotional, social and physical health.
“These initial findings indicate that we can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and we can get them to be more active,” said Megan MacDonald, Assistant Professor at Oregon State University.
“It was so cool to see the relationship between the child and the dog evolve over time. They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child,” MacDonald added.