Toddlers Benefit Growing Up with a Dog


A study published July in the Journal Pediatric Research suggests walking and playing with a family dog could encourage a toddler’s social and emotional development.

Toddlers from families with dogs who participated in the study were 30 percent less likely to have behavior and social problems in comparison to preschoolers from families who didn’t share their homes with dogs, according to the study. Even at this age, toddlers could indeed benefit from interacting with a pet while supervised.

“Regular physical activity plays an important role during early childhood, contributing to young children’s development and decreasing their risk of developing chronic diseases including obesity,” said the study’s senior author Hayley Christian, an associate professor and senior research fellow in the Centre for Child Health Research at The University of Western Australia.

They analyzed data from the Australian Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity and Health study. This investigation looked into which aspects of early childhood education and care and home and neighborhood environment influenced preschoolers’ physical activity, health and development.

Participants involved children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Via questionnaires, parents reported scores of their children’s well-being in a few different areas: Conduct problems described how often children lost their temper, misbehaved or fought with other kids, explained Christian, who is also a research fellow at the Telethon Kids Institute, the medical research institute behind the study.

Prosocial behavior considered how much the children were considerate of others’ feelings and helpful if someone was hurt, upset or sick; in other words demonstrating empathy. The surveys also measured emotional symptoms, hyperactivity and overall difficulties.

Toddlers from dog-owning families were more likely to exhibit higher levels of prosocial behaviors, and were observed with what was termed lower overall difficulties. Children who walked a pet dog with their families at least one day weekly and played with their dog(s) at least three times a week had higher prosocial scores than those who did so less often.

“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.