Go Ahead and Get a Dog: Your Kids Will Handle Stress Better

By Hannah Schenker

For the dog-lovers among us, you now have another reason to feel good about your decision to have a dog: research from the University of Florida has shown that kids who grow up with dogs are better at handling stress. Dogs really are a kid’s best friend.

“Many people think pet dogs are great for kids but scientists aren’t sure if that’s true or how it happens,” said researcher Darlene Kertes, an assistant professor in the psychology department of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “How we learn to deal with stress as children has lifelong consequences for how we cope with stress as adults.”

For the study, published in Social Development, researchers at the University of Florida recruited around 100 pet-owning families who came to the university lab with their pups. The children, aged between 7 to 12 years old, were put through tests to measure their stress levels – a public speaking and a mental arithmetic task. Both of these types of tasks have been shown to produce the stress response, raising cortisol in the body (stress hormone). In the randomized controlled study, the kids were randomly assigned to experience the stressful tasks with their dog present, with their parent present, or with no support.

Saliva samples were taken before and after the stressful tasks to measure the levels of cortisol, and the children reported about their stress levels.

“Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out,” Kertes said. “Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support.”

Interestingly, how much cortisol was released was influenced by how interactive the child was with their dog.

“Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less,” said Kertes,  “When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”

So if you’ve been thinking about getting a dog – what better reason than that it may very well help your child to manage stress. Having a pup in the house could have a lifelong positive impact on them.

Hannah Schenker is a freelance writer, editor and regular contributor to The Natural Parent Magazine. She lives with a touch of magic in Golden Bay, New Zealand. 

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