Maybe you got a dog because you needed to add some extra joy to your family this year. (We get it). And while you’ve enjoyed the new spurt of energy and all the cuddles your beloved pup has brought into your home, Dolly Pawton is doing way more than she’s getting credit for. According to Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD, research scientist in pet behavior and welfare at Purina, growing up with a pup has a bunch of benefits you might never have realized. Below, five cool perks of raising kids with pets.
1. Dogs can help reduce stress
Now more than ever, back-to-school anxiety is real. And sometimes kids don’t have the right words to fully express exactly how they’re feeling. While having a dog around won’t help in the same way a conversation with an understanding adult can, it can still help mitigate the angst. “Dogs and cats can be great sources of comfort for kids when facing the challenges of childhood,” Dr. McGowan explains. “Whenever kids feel sad, angry or afraid, pets can provide loyal companionship and cuddles. Regular petting and cuddling are shown to relieve stress and help people (of all ages) relax by reducing levels of cortisol.”
2. And caring for a pet teaches responsibility and empathy
Getting your kids to put away their toys or share with their siblings can be an uphill battle. But you can sneakily impart a sense of responsibility and teach kids to be more empathetic by encouraging them to be hands-on with the care of your dog. “Helping care for a family pet is an age-appropriate way to teach responsibility,” says McGowan. “Feeding and watering the family dog or cat, helping with walks and participating in pet playtime gives children a first glimpse of accountability and obligation.”
Your kids might feel better about themselves, too. “Children also learn empathy and compassion by caring for their pet, while developing a higher sense of self-esteem by taking ownership of their pet care responsibilities,” Dr. McGowan adds. “When kids imagine how a pet feels, it helps them learn to empathize with their peers and take others’ feelings into account.”
3. Sharing books with a pet can improve reading confidence
If you have a budding bibliophile in your home, having them read to your dog is one foolproof way to help them improve their reading skills. “Reading to dogs has been shown to improve a child’s overall reading abilities, comfortability and self-confidence,” says Dr. McGowan. “Children also demonstrate more interest in reading when practicing their skills with their pup.” In other words, if you don’t feel like hearing your kid read Press Here for the fiftieth time, Sarah Jessica Barker’s got it.
4. Owning a pup can promote physical activity
Concerned your kid isn’t getting enough exercise? You could sign him up for the soccer team…or you could get him a dog. “Caring for a dog can help kids stay more active over the years,” Dr. McGowan explains. “Kids with dogs exercise 11 minutes a day more than their non-dog owning peers. Daily walks or runs and plenty of playtime give the kids an opportunity to get outside and get moving.” (And for parents, we hear owning a dog is basically the new Peloton.)
5. Exposure to dogs can improve kids’ immune systems
While it depends on the kid and the home, Dr. McGowan says that overall, exposing young kids to some of their pets’ bacteria can be beneficial to their immune systems. “Studies show that babies raised in close contact with a pet get sick less often in their first year of life, meaning 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 pets experience a reduced risk of allergies.”
So, there you have it: When your kid asks you for the eight-millionth time if she can get a dog…maybe your answer should be “yes.”