Anyone who loved their pet canine as a child understands the benefits of growing up with a dog. Dogs can be cute, cuddly and oh-so-friendly—all things kids (and many adults) tend to love.
Not to mention—canines often become part of our families. They share in our experiences and offer unconditional love and affection, which can be meaningful for a child who’s developing a sense of self-worth.
Whether your child is leading a pet on a pretend adventure in the backyard or gently petting and feeding them treats, growing up with a dog can impact their physical and psychological development.
Here are some of the many benefits of dogs being in children's lives.
Benefits of Growing Up with a Dog
1. Constant Companionship
Childhood isn’t always easy. Common challenges such as a fight with a friend, starting a new school or rejection can seem extraordinary, especially when you’re still developing the emotional tools to navigate them.
Having a pet to interact with in these situations may be helpful. Their constant companionship through the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence can be a source of comfort.
Whenever kids feel sad, angry or afraid, they can always turn to their pet. Petting and cuddling dogs has also been shown to relieve stress and help people relax.*
Additionally, if your dog has been socialized and likes activities, they can be a great playmate. Whether it’s traditional dog games like fetch or hide-and-seek, or a make-believe scenario your child dreams up, some canines are great partners in play.
2. A More Active Lifestyle
Caring for a dog also encourages a more active lifestyle. Exercise helps kids build strong bones and muscles, improve cardiovascular health and more.
Research shows kids with dogs exercise eleven minutes a day more than their non-dog-owning peers. That might not sound like a lot, but over a week or month, it starts to add up.
Many dogs require daily walks or runs and plenty of play time. Those adorable puppy eyes they give you can be motivating—even when you're not feeling up to it.
This can be important for kids who are apathetic about exercise, struggle with their weight, or could benefit from more time outdoors.
Of course, dog exercise benefits your pet as well.
3. Learning Responsibility
Growing up with a dog is an opportunity for kids—especially older kids—to learn responsibility. Making sure the family pet has food and water and gets regular walks gives children a first glimpse of accountability and obligation. It’s important for parents to remember that while their children are learning, they should be checking in regularly to be sure they’re meeting their pets’ needs.
Children also learn empathy and compassion by caring for their canine*, while developing a higher level of self-esteem by taking care of their pet-owning responsibilities.
Studies show that babies raised in close contact with a pet get sick less often in their first year of life, meaning potentially fewer visits to the doctor's office.
Exposure to pet dander and the microbes that pets carry into the home from the outdoors is suggested to improve babies' developing immune systems.
Research has also found that children who grow up with dogs experience a reduced risk of allergies.
5. Increased Happiness
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of dogs in early childhood is simply that they make children happy.
Interaction with animals, particularly dogs, has been proven to influence hormones associated with well-being and happiness such as dopamine, oxytocin and cortisol.
All science aside, playing and interacting with dogs is just plain fun—and it can brighten your child’s day.
Growing up with a dog can enrich the lives of children in so many ways. Indeed, if you and your child are ready to adopt a pet, having a dog join your family may be one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids.
*Case, L. P. (2005). Benefits of Sharing Our Lives with Dogs. In The Dog: Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health (Second edition, pp. 120-124). Blackwell Publishing.