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Can dogs help toddlers learn social-emotional skills?

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Yes, the research points to your family dog indeed being able to help your preschooler learn emotional and social skills – which pretty much every seasoned dog parent already knew. But if your partner or spouse insists that the dog must go when the baby comes along, here’s your proof that dogs help raise an emotionally and socially skilled child.

The study from Indiana University found that just watching cat videos boosted a small child’s energy and created healthy positive emotions. Toddlers from dog owning family in the study were 30% less likely to have problems with peers or their conduct as compared with preschoolers from families who didn’t own dogs. The researchers found that toddlers can benefit from interacting with a pet even at early ages.

The study’s senior author Hayley Christian stated that “Regular physical activity plays an important role during early childhood.” This contributes to the development of the child and helps decrease their risk of developing chronic diseases. Obesity risk also decreased with the consistent physical activity. Global recommendations recommend that preschoolers be active throughout the day. However, less than a third of children aged 2 to 5 get three hours of physical activity per day. Dog ownership helps children get more physically active by the natural play that occurs between the dog and child, and the daily walks that the dog requires.

Additionally, prosocial behavior is more likely to be exhibited by toddlers from dog-owning families. This includes behavior relating to how well they got along with other children, how considerate they were of other’s feelings and how helpful they were if someone was hurt, upset or sick. Even in the youngest of children, dogs have a positive influence on their behavior. Other research has shown that children might experience vicarious pleasure and happiness when playing with dogs, which also leads to better prosocial behavior. Since animals can’t speak directly to us, the child has to think outside of themselves and respond to the dog’s behavior in communication.

“You have to work to read what your dog is thinking and respond to their behavior. That gets kids out of their headspace and more thinking about what another being is thinking,” Radesky said. “That’s… empathy and social reciprocity, meaning the back and forth of relationships that helps us heal during times of stress.”

Pets are social enablers and assist with teaching children about being responsible through having to care for and train their pet.

Want to learn more about the benefits of dogs in human lives? Click here to read about dogs who help people with PTSD and Emotional Support Dogs


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