Are Dogs Good for Kids?

Mother and daughter petting their dog

It's no secret that most kids love dogs. After all, they're cute and cuddly, friendly and often funny; what's not to love? What's not as well known are the substantial benefits of having a family dog when it comes to a child's physical and psychological development. 

Having a family dog can provide children with their first lessons in empathy and responsibility, in addition to providing the benefits of constant companionship and the boost to self-esteem that comes from the unconditional love of a sociable pet. Here are nine major benefits of having a family dog for children.

Learning About Responsibility, Accountability and Consequence

Life with a family dog means caring for them and making sure they stay healthy. When children are tasked with being a part of that process, many get their first concrete life lessons in accountability and responsibility. The need to feed, water, play with and exercise the dog regularly becomes tied to the idea that their beloved pooch can suffer health and mental issues if their needs aren't met.

Building Empathy and Imagination

Related to the lesson about responsibility is the learning of empathy and compassion. To help care for the family dog, children growing up with the dog need to be able to imagine how they feel when they’re hungry, neglected or afraid. That basic act of putting themselves in another's shoes — or in this case, paws — is part of developing the core imaginative faculty that goes on to help children understand their peers and account for their feelings.

Embracing Cooperation and Generosity

Caring for another living being, and acting as a good friend and companion to them, sometimes means learning to put someone else's needs before your own at various times of the day, to give of your time and energy to make someone else happier. Children can learn to value the traits of cooperation, sharing and generosity by looking after a canine companion, and the shared responsibility for a dog's wellbeing can be the kind of bonding that helps bring siblings closer together.

Developing Self-Esteem

There's no bigger builder for a child's self-esteem than being able to take on a genuinely important responsibility and succeed at it. Working on life skills alongside a faithful canine companion comes with the benefit that the dog is eager to offer support and encouragement. Being successful as a companion to the family pet is a boost to a child's confidence that can carry forward into how they engage with other challenges in life.

Practising Speech

As children learn how to talk, it helps to have a partner -- or an audience -- that not only doesn't exert any pressure on them, but also helps them to feel entertained and relaxed. This can be particularly helpful for children with speech impediments. Chatting with their new friend, learning to give them commands, getting them to answer to their name, or just babbling and playing with them are all ways through which developing children benefit from having a dog.

Having a Friend to Confide In

People often find it easier to process feelings when they have someone to talk to about them. Dogs can act as quiet confidants for children, providing a judgment-free ear that they can treat as they would a friend. Having that kind of outlet can be a significant help in coming to terms with difficult or even traumatic experiences. 

Enjoying an Active Lifestyle

It's hard to be completely sedentary when there's a healthy, happy dog in your life to encourage you to get out into the outdoors and enjoy life. Dogs can be a great motivator for kids to develop a lifelong affinity for exercise and an active, healthy lifestyle. This brings with it all the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise for flexibility, stamina, mood and all-around wellness.

Discovering the Healing Power of Companionship

The affectionate companionship of dogs can deliver tremendously therapeutic benefits for humans. Companion animals are a normal feature of everyday life because the simple joy of contact with dogs can provide a boost to a human's mental state. It's no wonder, then, that canine companions can have long-term health benefits for the children who live with them, including making kids less likely to develop allergies and less likely to need to take sick days from school.

Relaxing and Enjoying the Moment

One of the reasons that dogs have a positive impact on human health is that having them around simply tends to make people happy. Dogs boost humans' serotonin and dopamine levels, the chemical building blocks of positive feelings. At a more basic level, though, dogs have a lot to teach humans about the benefits of taking joy from every moment, and they're just plain fun to interact and play with. Growing up with a dog is one of the best possible ways for children to learn appreciation of life's simple pleasures and to make the most of every day.

These are just a few of the many benefits of having a family dog. For all these reasons, the friendship of a dog is one of the finest gifts a family can give their kids. If you're considering inviting a dog into your family, check out the Purina Dog Breed Selector to find out what kind of dog might be the best fit for your home.

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