Dogs may be good for children’s psychological development

By Nicholas Bakalar

Living in a home with a dog may be linked to healthier psychological development in young children, researchers report.

Australian scientists collected data from 1,646 parents of 3- to 5-year-old boys and girls on various socio-demographic factors — siblings, sleep time, screen time, parents’ level of education, work status and so on. They also gathered information on dog ownership, active play with the dog and family dog walking. And they used a well-validated scale to measure the social and emotional development of the children.

The study, in Pediatric Research, found that after adjusting for other factors, compared to children without dogs, those who had them were about 30% less likely to have conduct problems, 40% less likely to have difficulty relating to peers, and 34% more likely to show pro-social behavior. There was no association of dog ownership with emotional difficulties or hyperactivity.

The senior author, Hayley E. Christian, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute, said that while the study suggests that the benefits of dog ownership start very early in life, this is an observational finding that does not prove cause and effect.

“We are not saying ‘go out and get a dog,’ ” she said. “That’s a really important decision.

Owning a dog comes with responsibilities and costs. But both anecdotal reports and research show that the benefits outweigh the costs.”

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