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Dogs could help preschoolers social and emotional development, study finds

Posted at 1:55 PM, Jul 07, 2020

Parents worried about a lack of social-emotional growth in their young children during social distancing and child care closures, consider playing with the family dog or taking the whole family on the dog's walk.

A study published this week in Pediatric Research points to improvements in toddlers’ behavior interacting with others when they have some amount of time spent with the family dog.

Information from more than 1,600 parents were included in the study, which asked how old their children were, if they had a dog, how often the child went on the family dog walks or actively played with the dog, as well as other questions. In addition, parents filled out a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire about their child’s development and behavior.

Overall, researchers found that preschool aged children from dog-owning homes had reduced likelihood of conduct problems and increased likelihood of prosocial behavior compared to children without a dog. Positive results were seen with family dog walking at least once a week and active play between the family and dog at least three times or more a week.

The study’s authors report part of their motivation for the study was the decreasing physical activity levels of young children. They reference studies on increased activity among adult dog owners, and wanted to look at whether there were increased levels in children with dogs in the home.

Participants live in Australia, and gave their survey results between 2015 to 2018 as part of a larger early childhood education and care research project.

The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire is a commonly used, 25-item document that measures the social and emotional well-being of children.

If a family dog is not possible at this time, maybe consider offering to walk a neighbor’s pet; physical activity, interacting with an animal and the benefit of doing something nice for a neighbor.