New study finds that young kids with a family dog are better behaved

Alabai dog playing with young girl in meadow
Alabai dog playing with young girl in meadow Photo: Getty Images

Good news for kids trying to convince their parents to let them get a dog!

New research shows that having a family dog can significantly benefit pre-schoolers by improving their physical and emotional health.

The study, which polled 1,646 parents and was conducted by a team at the University of Western Australia and the Telethon Kids Institute, found that children between the ages of two and five who came from households with dogs had less social and behavioural problems with other kids.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Hayley Christian said the study revealed that young kids that engaged in regular family walks with the dog or actively played with their pets – had better social behaviours, such as sharing and cooperating, compared to children who grew up without a dog.

"For example, we observed that children who played with their dog a minimum of three times per week or walked with their dog at least once per week had better social-emotional development," Associate Professor Christian said.

Owning a dog can benefit the whole family

Owning a dog can benefit the whole family Photo: Getty Images

The researchers surveyed 1,646 parents, tracking how many owned a dog and how often the child engaged and played with it. Parents also completed a 'Strengths and Difficulties' questionnaire which researchers than used to measure the children's social-emotional development.

The study found that kids who came from a household with a dog were 30-40 percent less likely to have problems with peers or their behaviour and were 34 per cent more likely to have pro-social behaviours, in comparison to the children that didn't have a dog.

The research also showed that the families that owned dogs and engaged in playing three or more times a week plus walking as a family once a week decreased social difficulties by 36 per cent and increased their pro-social behaviour by up to 74 per cent.


While the benefits of a family pet have been studied previously, Associate Professor Christian admits her team weren't expecting the results to be so strong.

"While we expected that dog ownership would provide some benefits for young children's wellbeing, we were surprised that the mere presence of a family dog was associated with many positive behaviours and emotions," she added.

Although Associate Professor Christian says her team doesn't know why exactly owning a dog is so beneficial, they think it could be due to the attachment formed between children and their dogs - and the increase in kids' physical activity.

"We know less than a third of children aged two to five years achieve the recommended national and international 24-hour movement guidelines of three hours of physical activity a day" she says.

Dogs can encourage kids to get outside and play

Dogs can encourage kids to get outside and play Photo: Getty Images

The results of the study came from the Play Spaces and Environments for Children's Physical Activity (PLAYCE) project which examined early childhood education and care, home, and neighbourhood influences on pre-schoolers' physical activity between 2015 to 2018.

The study was funded by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), with Executive Director Steven Feldman saying that the publication recognised how important pet dogs were, especially for kids.

"These findings demonstrate how important pets are in our lives, especially for children." Feldman said.

"HABRI is proud to support this important research, which will encourage more families to consider the benefits of dog ownership and more dog-owning families to spend quality time with their beloved pets."

Perhaps it's time to adopt a four-legged friend!