How often has your son or daughter asked you for a dog? If you are like most families, (mine included) you’ve heard the question more times than you care to count. Well, let me reassure you, you are not alone!
A recent survey 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 your kids are like most kids then they’ve asked you about 11 times every month since around the age of 6 to get a dog and for good reason, getting a dog for your kid can be a fantastic idea.
Dogs can help kids regulate their emotions, improve their immune systems, stay fit and active, build social skills, develop friendships, learn responsibility, practice empathy, build confidence and self-esteem, offer protection, and provide loyal and loving companionship.
Even though getting a dog for your kids is a GREAT idea, it doesn’t mean it will be easy (Be sure to read this article I wrote about just how much work a puppy is so you know what you are getting into.) But like most things in life, a bit of hard work upfront can make for amazing results in the end!
So here are the top reasons why a dog can be great for your kids. Make sure to read to the end for some tips on how to involve your kids and make it a successful experience for you all.
Health Benefits for Kid’s who Have a Dog
1. Having a dog helps improve your child’s immune system
With all the environmental toxins and poor food choices available for our kids these days it feels a little daunting at times to keep our kids healthy and strong. Anything we can do to help improve their health seems like a win in my book. The good news is having a dog for your kids can actually help them be healthier!
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Having a dog from a young age is scientifically proven to help increase the number of microbes (good bacteria) that your body has. The good bacteria help fight and keep away the bad.
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.
Dogs also expose us to more microbes found in nature on a daily basis that helps to create a healthy balance for our bodies. This exposure for babies and young kids has been proven to lower kids’ chances of suffering from allergies and asthma when they are older.
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 could help your kids get more exercise and sunshine
There have been a lot of studies done that show a correlation between kids having dogs and being more active. It’s not 100% clear if having a dog makes kids more active, or if more active families tend to get dogs, but either way, it’s proven that kids walk and get more exercise when they have a dog.
Playing fetch in the yard, playing hide and seek, or running in circles after the dog, I know for my own children having a dog to play with provides at least one more creative outlet for them to let loose, and expend some energy. I call that a win!
Dogs help kids get outside more, and can help them be more creative in their play. More outside time also equals more Vitamin D from the sunshine.
3. Dogs can help an anxious child
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 kids face these days they are definitely going to need all the help they can get to combat it.
Two important hormones that help us and our kids battle anxiety and depression are oxytocin and serotonin. There have been scientific studies that show, kids and adults alike have increased levels of these hormones when around our dogs, sometimes even just in the same room with them, but always when we are petting and cuddling them.
Our Heart rate is also shown to be lower in the presence of our dogs as well. It’s an amazing connection that humans have had with dogs for centuries.
I’ve heard many amazing stories from real-life dog owners that their dogs have been instrumental in helping their child in their battles against anxiety.
I had a mom share with me that her son who was always so anxious and stressed at night and would never fall asleep on his own was able to finally get the restful sleep he needed after his dog started sleeping with him.
Having the dog in bed with him at night helped him feel more secure, able to relax, and again released those important feel-good hormones that helped him get more restful sleep. Sleeping with his dog also created a stronger bond between the two which in turn helped him feel more at peace and relaxed during the day as well.
4. A dog can help kids fight 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, they even have the ability to smell our emotions. They truly love us and want us to be happy. If your child has a strong bond with their dog it will increase their production of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine which are is great for those who need a boost.
5. A dog can help your ADHD Child
As a mother with 2 ADHD children, I know the difficulties that come with this diagnosis. A well-trained dog can help a 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.
For my daughter who struggles to do anything consistently, I’ve seen amazing results with her taking on the responsibility of caring for our pets. 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 child
Many kids 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 Kids Gets From Having a Dog
7. Dogs can help your kids socialize with peers.
Shy and less social kids can get help with making friends from their four-legged companions. Dogs and pets, in general, can serve as a connection point and provide something in common for kids to bond and create friendships over.
Taking the dog out to play in the neighborhood or park gets kids out of their houses and open to making new friendships with other kids who have dogs and love dogs.
My daughter was able to make a friend on our street by meeting another girl who was out walking her dog every day. 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 lovers 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 help teach kids emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence or the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to emotions in others is a critical life skill. Learning this skill in childhood is important to help kids be successful and fulfilled later in life. Learning how to be empathetic, reading body language and social clues can be challenging for some children.
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 kids to see. When they know that their dog cares more for them than anything else then your children will be more willing and able to care for others as well.
Since dogs communicate mostly non-verbally kids 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 its different needs. In this way having a dog gives kids practice noticing the needs and wants of another living thing.
9. A dog could help your child learn to read
This one is pretty cool! No, dogs don’t know how to read, but when kids are learning to read they sometimes just need a really good listener!
Learning to read can be difficult and embarrassing for some kids. When it comes to making a lot of mistakes or messing up it’s hard for shy and quiet kids to do that in front of others. A dog can provide that calm, quiet, steady, non-judgemental relationship that kids need in order to practice and progress. There was even a study that showed kids who read to their dog increased their skills more than those that didn’t.
10. Having a dog can help your child’s self-esteem
Studies show that children 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. Kids 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.
Dogs Help Kids Build Better Relationships
11. Dogs can help an only Child
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. Dogs teach your child about respect and trust
This goes both ways. Teaching your dog to respect your child, and teaching your child to respect your dog. It can be a daunting task at first, but a really great way to learn some life lessons.
Boundaries are hard for kids but important to understand. I try not to cringe when I see young kids on the other side of the screen in my online dog classes handling their dogs roughly, or the dogs constantly nipping at the kids.
It’s been very rewarding as I teach them about building trust and respect with their dogs to see over the weeks improvements that make their relationships better. There seems to often be a lightbulb moment for some of my students when we talk about how dogs don’t like fast and unpredictable movements. When they try to slow down and move more cautiously and deliberately, they are thinking about how they build trust with their dogs. I had one little girl after a week of practice excitedly tell me “Mrs. Jen it worked my dog will let me hold her now!”
A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.
Having a Dog Can Help Your Children Learn
14. Dogs can help teach kids about danger
A Dog can sense the presence of danger and often detect it much sooner than a child could. Having a dog as a faithful companion for your kids not only helps you feel more comfortable about their safety but it could also help your kids learn how to be more aware of possible dangers themselves. Learning about your dog’s typical behavior and teaching your kids how to recognize atypical behavior in your dog that might be a clue to dangerous situations 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 kids practice teaching something
Learning new skills and talents is something that most parents want for their kids. 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 kids for many years. There are a lot of things your kids can help teach your dog. They will be thrilled when they can give their dog a command to have them sit, lie down, and roll over.
16. Having a dog gives your kids a lesson in loss
This is one that we don’t necessarily want our kids to experience, and depending on how old your dog is, you may not have to face this quite yet…… but if they do…… experiencing the loss of a pet as a child 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 child learn responsibility
I saved this one for last, because even though it’s one of the most obvious and talked about the benefits of why having a dog is good for kids it’s still one of the most important, and can often be overlooked.
Kids can learn a lot of responsibility when it comes to caring for a pet, it needs to be approached the right way.
The daily tasks of feeding, exercising, grooming, and showing their dog affection can teach kids 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 children to learn, getting them a dog should be done with a lot of preparation, planning, and care.
How to Help Your Kids Be a Successful Dog Owner
- Prepare Beforehand
- Get them Involved
- Layout Clear Rules
While surprising your kids 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 (Check out this article I wrote to find out just how much work might be involved). 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.
Get Your Kids Involved
Teaching your kids 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 kids read books, take classes and watch lots of videos on how to train and care for a dog to help them prepare and involve them in the process. This will also help you determine if they are really committed to the idea of having a dog, or if it’s just a passing fancy.
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.
I’m confident that getting a dog can bring you and your children 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.