The surprising ways having a dog benefits your kids

The surprising ways having a dog benefits your kids.
The surprising ways having a dog benefits your kids. Photo: Shuttertstock

Being a single (co-parenting) mum to three busy kids, getting a dog is the last thing I want to do. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, but I've already got enough going on, you know? 

And when the children are off at their dad's place, the last thing I want to be doing is looking after their pet. That's time I unapologetically reserve for myself.

But circumstances aligned recently that led us to dog-sitting a miniature poodle named Rupert for six weeks. I leapt at the chance – it's all the benefits of having a dog without the commitment or responsibility. Perfect. 

What I wasn't prepared for was just how many ways having a dog would benefit my children. 

A new way to de-stress

Patting a dog has been proven to reduce levels of stress hormone cortisol, but purely on an observational basis, I have noticed my children are less stressed with Rupert around. My teenager has even told me that when she takes him for walks, she talks to Rupert the whole time, telling him what's going on in her life along the way. It's like therapy, but cheaper. I find myself doing it too.

Because I work from home, Rupert has become my co-worker during the day. Usually I can go a whole day without uttering a word, but with Rupert here, I find myself chatting away all the time. I could be losing my mind, but I find it delightful.

Spending more time outside

This one may be pretty obvious, but I've been staggered at the amount of extra time my children now spend outside. Mine are children of the iPad generation, and although we have strict rules about screen time, they would rather wait around inside just in case I decide to let them use their screens than run around outside.

But with Rupert here, they will go outside and throw a ball for him, play tiggy just to see him running around chasing them, and even just sit in the back yard to watch him sniff around the garden. Up until this point I wasn't certain my children knew we had a back yard, so this is an improvement.

Getting more exercise

Rupert is a small, older dog who doesn't need a lot of exercise, but each day I insist someone takes him for at least a walk around the block. Often more than one child will put their hand up and they will go together.

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I'm even seeing my exercise-hating teen running for the first time in years because she enjoys getting the dog excited and going for a trot. 

Feeling safer

My youngest child is often concerned about noises she hears in the night, but with Rupert here, she's reassured that he'll bark if there is any real danger. (He'll even bark if someone sets foot on our side of the road within 25 metres or so, so the alarm system is working well.)

We often have possums chasing one another on our iron roof, which can create quite a racket, but with Rupert here, my daughter rests easier, knowing our little furry burglar alarm is on duty.

Growing confidence in speaking to strangers

Everyone with a dog – especially a small cute fluffy dog – knows they are conversation starters. Wherever we go, people want to come up and have a pat and ask questions about the dog. I've seen my eight- and six-year-olds grow in confidence as they've proudly told strangers all about "their" dog, where before they would have shyly hidden behind me and expected me to do all the talking.

We've only got a few weeks before we have to hand Rupert back to his owners, and already the conversations have started about how nice it would be to have a dog of our own. I knew they would, of course, but I was prepared to combat them with my authority and logic. But as we fall more in love with this dog, those traits are starting to elude me. 

Damn it, our dedicated pet-free home could be in puppy-shaped trouble…