If you have a teenager relentlessly begging you to get them a dog, you are not alone. A new poll commissioned by Spin Master found out that the average American child will ask their parents for a pet 1,584 times before the age of 18, and 78% of those are asking for a dog. That means if you have the typical teen (and you haven’t given in yet) they’ve asked you almost 11 times a month since about the age of 6 to get a dog, and for good reason, there are countless benefits that your teen could get from owning a dog. I’ve listed 17 of them below.
Even though getting a dog for your teen is a GREAT idea, it doesn’t mean it will be easy (check out this article I wrote about just how much work a puppy is.) I mean let’s be honest what part of having a teenager is easy? But if you are seriously considering helping your teen make it through these turbulent years, a dog could be your biggest ally! So here are the top reasons why a dog can be great for your teen. Make sure to read to the end for some tips on how to help them be successful in taking care of their new friend.
Possible Health Benefits for Teens who Have a Dog
1. Having a dog helps improve your teen’s immune system
Teens may sometimes stay up late, they might eat junk food, they spend a lot of time on screens, they deal with a lot of stress from school, and parents, and peers. Let’s face it, they need all the extra immune protection they can get, and a dog can do just that!
Have you heard of the word Microbiome? Well, it’s your body’s way of using good germs to protect you from the bad germs. Dogs have a more diverse microbiome than we do and studies show that they are kind enough to share it with us. In turn, this makes our immune systems more diverse and increases our body’s ability to fight off disease and bacteria. I teach new puppy classes to kids to help them know if they are ready for the responsibility of a new pet. One of the things we discuss is the benefits of having a dog and this is my FAVORITE thing to tell them because it’s so surprising, based on Science, and pretty dang cool!
2. A dog can help your teenager get more exercise
Some teens who play who are involved in sports may easily get enough exercise to keep them healthy, but what about teens who have other more sedentary hobbies like art, music, or gaming? Teens report having a little over 5 and 1/2 hours of leisure time a day and a lot of the time is in front of screens. What’s a better use of that time…. walking and playing with a dog of course! Dog owners have had more consistent success with getting outside for a walk with their 4 legged friends than just getting out for a walk with friends. This Study from the AJPM shows that dog owners walk an average of 300 more minutes a week than non-dog owners.
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3. Dogs can help your teenager overcome anxiety
If you have ever owned a furry friend you have probably experienced the calming effect they can have on you when you are feeling stressed or anxious. Considering how much stress and anxiety is facing a teen these days they are definitely going to need all the help they can get to combat it.
Just being in the presence of our dogs can help lower our heart rate and helps us remain calm and focused. This seems to be a primal connection that humans have had with dogs for centuries. Teens around dogs have increased levels of serotonin and oxytocin two hormones that are key to battling anxiety and depression.
Not only is there research to support this, but I’ve heard countless real-life stories of how pets have helped kids to overcome their anxieties. One example is, nighttime anxiety, if your teen has a hard time sleeping at night a dog could help them feel more secure and be able to relax while promoting the hormones that create more restful sleep. Sleeping with their dog can also create a deeper bond between them and their pet which can increase the benefits that they get.
One parent told me how their son has a morning routine of having his dog sit on his lap while waiting for the school bus. She said it’s helped him feel a lot more prepared to face the challenges of a long stressful day.
4. A dog can help your teenager who suffers from depression
Having a dog will not cure depression, and any signs of depression should be taken seriously, but having a dog can help ease loneliness. There are many therapy groups around the country that use dogs to help with depression.
Dogs have a natural ability to pick up on how we are feeling it is said that they can even smell our emotions, and they truly love us and want us to be happy. If your teen has a strong bond with their dog chances are it can help them come closer to finding the peace and happiness we desire for them.
5. A dog can help your teen with ADHD
As a mother with 2 ADHD children, I know the difficulties that come with this diagnosis. A well-trained dog can help a teenager or child calm down, it gives them something to focus on, and petting and cuddling with the dog release stress-reducing hormones.
A dog could also be a great tool to help your child learn time management skills as they have to follow a strict schedule to feed and walk their pet. I’ve also seen how exercising and playing with a dog can help funnel some of the hyperactivity into something productive.
6. A dog can help your autistic teen
Many teens with autism have been able to form special bonds with dogs. A therapy dog (like the ones at dogsforgood.org) could help them learn routines, patterns of behavior, and even aid in communication. A study done by the University of Lincoln has shown that children with autism have fewer meltdowns when around their dogs. The stress levels for their parents in the presence of their pet was lower as well.
Social and Emotional Benefits a Teenager Gets From Having a Dog
7. Dogs can help your teenager socialize with peers.
Awkward conversations are a staple in teenage years, and a dog is a perfect icebreaker for awkward conversations. Dogs and pets, in general, can serve as a connection point and provide something in common for kids and teens to bond and create friendships over.
Taking the dog out for a walk or to the dog park gets teens out of their houses and open to making new friendships with other dog owners. My teenage daughter was able to make a friend on our street by meeting another girl who was out walking her dog everyday. They instantly had a least one way to connect and bond and that was the love of their dogs!
I have also been able to see a lot of amazing friendships and connections being made while teaching this interactive online friendship club for dog owners on Outschool. Kids from all over the world have been able to meet in a safe and secure environment to learn about different cultures and enjoy games while building friendships all over the commonality of owning a dog!
8. A dog can teach a teen emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is a skill we are constantly working to improve throughout our lives. This includes being aware of our own emotions as well as others. Learning how to be empathetic and reading body language and social clues can be difficult for anyone, mix this into teenage hormones, and a feeling of trying to find your place in the world it’s a lot going on.
Dogs are instinctively in tune with our emotions. They seem to know instantly when we are feeling down and are often the first to come to us and offer a kiss or cuddle of encouragement. There are countless stories of heroic dogs who risk their own lives to save their owners from danger. This is a great example for our teens to see. When they know that their dog cares more for them than anything else then your teen will be more willing and able to care for others as well.
Since dogs communicate mostly non-verbally teens learn how to read body language by training and caring for a dog. They can tell that when a dog is wagging its tail and jumping up and down he’s excited to see them. There are many different postures and subtle signals that a dog gives that can indicate it’s different needs. In this way having a dog gives teenagers practice noticing the needs and wants of another living thing.
9. A dog provides uncomplicated intimacy
There are so many complexities that a teenager encounters when it comes to learning about relationships with others and building intimacy. Sometimes they just need something that is easy. Loving a dog is easy! When a teenager feels constantly judged and criticized by their peers it’s incredibly important for them to have a safe non-judgmental space to retreat to. Even loving and well-meaning parents can sometimes unknowingly make a teen feel criticized. A dog can provide the safe completely non-judgemental relationship they need. Teenagers who have a strong bond with their dog often say that they can tell their dog anything and it helps them to feel better and more understood. Some teenagers report that they feel a closer bond to their dog than they do their friends or other members of the family, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
10. Having a dog can improve your teenagers self-esteem
Studies show that children and teens who have pets (particularly dogs and cats) have higher self-esteem. Having a positive relationship with their dog can increase their feelings of self-worth. Teens who lack social and emotional support from their peers may struggle with feeling accepted by others this can cause them to have a lower view of themselves. Dogs naturally give unconditional love and can in a way help to counteract the negativity in other parts of their lives, a teen just needs to give love and affection to their dog and it will surely be reciprocated with loyal devotion.
Having a dog that relies on your teen for care can also help them feel important. Knowing that they are in charge of providing for the health and welfare of a living thing that has complete trust in them helps them build confidence in themselves and enhances their sense of importance.
Teens Who Have Dogs Can Have Better Relationships
11. Dogs can help teach your teen empathy
If you have a teen who is an only child this one is especially true for you! Having a dog is not the same thing as having a sibling, but it can have some similar benefits. Having a dog can help an only child learn to share time and resources with another member of the family. Getting a new puppy and needing to work together as a family to train it and take care of it can help build cooperation, but maybe most importantly having a dog can help your teen not be as lonely. They can have a playmate and confidant, they get more practice building their social skills and empathy which is something that may be a little harder to do if you don’t have many siblings.
12. Having a strong bond with a dog may improve a child’s relationship with their parents
A study done by Kent state university surveyed 99 children ages nine to eleven and reported that “Children who felt closer to their dogs were more securely attached to mothers and fathers, and reported more positive qualities and less conflict with friends.” More research is needed to understand the full depth of how dogs may play an important role in attachment but it seems clear to me that considering all the other benefits that your child gets from having a dog (such as greater empathy, understanding, and more of the happy hormones) there’s a lot of good reasons why having a dog could help you be more bonded as a family.
13. It gives your teen a reason to be home
With busy schedules and ever-increasing desires to be with friends or other activities, a dog could be the anchor that requires your teen to check in at home on a regular basis in order to take care of their responsibilities of feeding, walking, and playing with the dog. Having this routine can provide you as a parent the opportunity to join in with your teen and facilitate conversations with a furry neutral and unbiased 3rd party present.
Ways Teens Learn by Having a Dog
14. It can provide your teen with protection
A dog has a very keen sense when danger is present, a teenager on the other hand……… most of the time does not. Having a dog accompany your teenager not only helps you feel more comfortable about their safety it could also help your teenager learn how to be more aware of possible dangers. Learning about your dog’s typical behavior and teaching your teenager how to recognize atypical behavior in your dog could possibly save their life. Here is a great article that talks about the fascinating ways dogs pick up on danger.
15. It gives your teen experience teaching something
Learning new skills and talents is something that most parents want for their teenagers. Learning how to care for a new puppy or dog and also how to train a new dog with positive reinforcement is a life skill that will continue to benefit your teen for many years. It will take some diligence and work on your part as their parent or caregiver, as well as quite a great amount of effort from your teen, but the rewards of having your dog give you a high five, or a kiss on command are sufficiently priceless!
16. Having a dog gives your teen an opportunity to experience loss
This is one that we don’t necessarily want our teen to experience, and depending on how old your dog is, your teen may not have to face this quite yet…… but if they do…… experiencing the loss of a pet at this age can help provide them with an important life lesson. They will have the opportunity to learn this lesson while still under the influence and care of loving parents that can guide them and help them learn how to deal with the sadness and emotions that come from the death of a pet.
17. A dog can help your teenager learn responsibility
This is probably the one that you have heard the most, and while it’s definitely true a dog provides them with a greater opportunity to learn responsibility, it needs to be approached the right way. The daily tasks of feeding, exercising, grooming, and showing their dog affection can teach teenagers the importance of commitment and consistency, as well as an appreciation for the rewards that come from responsible pet ownership. While these are great lessons for our teens to learn, getting them a dog should be done with a lot of preparation, planning, and care.
How to Help Your Teen Be a Successful Dog Owner
- Prepare Beforehand
- Get your Teen Involved
- Lay out Clear Rules
- Make a Contract
Getting all the rewards and benefits I’ve listed in this article doesn’t happen instantly the moment you decide to go adopt a dog. It takes a lot of hard work, planning, and effort for you as the caregiver as well as for your teenager!
While surprising your teen with a dog for their birthday or Christmas might seem like a fun idea, the fun will soon wear off, and if your child is not thoroughly prepared it may end up as a bad experience for you as well as the dog. Here are some things you can do to make sure it turns into a beneficial experience and a lifelong friendship.
Know what you are getting into. A puppy and even an adult dog is a lot of work. The first year of taking care of and training your new pet comes with a lot of adjustments, and time commitments for everyone in your household. Once you get your dog well trained and everyone into a routine it’s a lot better and very worth it, but you can expect to spend most if not all your free time taking care of your new puppy and teaching it to behave.
The Financial cost of a puppy or new dog is something to think about as well. Depending on the size and breed of your dog you can expect to pay anywhere from $1,400-$4,300 a year on taking care of your dog. I always encourage my students to think about the cost of a dog and how they can help they can contribute to helping their family with that cost but ultimately the burden falls on the parent’s shoulders.
Get Your Teen Involved
Teaching your teen that it’s a privilege and not necessarily a responsibility can reframe the experience into something positive. It’s a good idea to have your teen read books, take classes and watch lots of videos on how to train and care for a dog to help them prepare. This will also give you an idea of how serious they are about taking on the responsibility and if they really want a dog or not.
You will need to understand what your child is capable of and think about how to assign them just enough of the duties to help them successfully bond with and take care of the dog while not putting so much on them that they get overwhelmed and want to give up. This may be especially true if your child has physical, mental or emotional challenges like some of the things listed earlier in this article.
Responsibilities may look different for every child, but most teens are able to take care of feeding, exercising, grooming, training, and keeping track of the general health and wellness of their dog.
Make Your Expectations Clear
It’s always a good idea to have clear expectations of what your teen is responsible for when it comes to care of their new dog. If you are worried that your teen may go back on their responsibilities then this is even more important! Some parents create a pet care contract with their teens stating exactly what is expected of them. Any way you go about it, paying close attention to this step will help you avoid frustration later down the road if your teen decides that they have other priorities over taking care of their pet.
I’m confident that getting a dog can bring you and your teenager a lifetime of rewards. I would love to help you in any way that I can. Please feel free to reach out to me through my Facebook page for any questions or help.