Pet dogs may help preschoolers develop better social and emotional skills, boost physical activity: Study
Preschoolers who spend a good chunk of time playing with or walking their dogs may do better socially and emotionally, according to a new study. The findings come as the pandemic has upended the lives of toddlers, and experts and parents worry about the costs of losing out on physical activities. The study suggests that children might be able to reap the benefits of owning a dog quite early. Previous studies have focused on grownups. "Young children from dog-owning families had lower peer problems and conduct problems, and higher prosocial behaviors than children from non-dog-owning families," say researchers from the University of Western Australia.
Having a canine friend for company also ensures that children get their dose of physical activity. Increasing sedentary lifestyle among kids is a public health issue, according to researchers. Data suggest that less than a third of those aged between two and five get three hours of physical activity every day. Children who stay active enjoy a variety of health and developmental benefits, including healthy weight, improved bone health, cardiovascular fitness, and enhanced motor, cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Therefore, the scientists investigated whether children who play and walk with their dogs had better social and emotional development. They studied responses from 1,646 parents of preschoolers, who were given a questionnaire. The team asked if the participants owned a dog, and the frequency with which their children went on family dog walks or actively played with their canine pets. They also measured the temperament of children or conduct, social skills, empathy, hyperactivity, and other problems to gain insights into their social and emotional development.
They found that young children from dog-owning families had better emotional and social skills than those from non-dog-owning families. Toddles who engaged with their canine pets at least once per week had 1.45 higher odds of having an “above-average” score on prosocial behaviors, compared with dog owners who walked with their dog less than once per week. It indicates that children who played and walked their dogs were often more social. "These results highlight that even a small to moderate commitment to involving preschoolers in time spent walking with the family dog may provide important social and emotional benefits for young children," the study said. Therefore, the researchers link positive social and emotional development with dog ownership, family dog walking, and dog play in young children.
The study is relevant in the Covid-19 era. Young children have had to pause physical activities with their peers. This "fits nicely with the positive effects of dog ownership for young kids," Dr Jenny Radesky, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Center for Human Growth & Development at the University of Michigan, who wasn't involved in the study, told CNN. "This was a nice example of how, even in the youngest kids, a dog can be a positive influence on their behavior," she added. However, the study is observational, meaning the researchers have merely found a link between dog-owning and social-emotional development in children. In other words, they have not established conclusively that a dog's company offers benefits to toddlers. Further studies can dig into the topic, filling the missing gaps in data, the scientists said.
The study is published in Pediatric Research.