BACKGROUND: Regular physical activity provides children with health and developmental benefits. This study investigated if active play and walking with the family dog was associated with better social-emotional development in young children.
METHODS: We surveyed 1646 parents to ascertain if families with pre-schoolers owned a dog, and the frequency per week their child went on family dog walks or actively played with their dog. The parent-report version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was used to measure children's social-emotional development.
RESULTS: Children from dog-owning households had reduced likelihood of conduct problems (odds ratio (OR) = 0.70; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.54, 0.90), peer problems (OR = 0.60; 95% CI: 0.46, 0.79), and total difficulties (OR = 0.77; 95% CI: 0.59, 0.99) and increased likelihood of prosocial behavior (OR = 1.34; 95% CI: 1.06, 1.68) compared with children without a dog. Within dog-owning households, family dog walking at least once/week (OR = 1.45; 95% CI: 1.02, 2.08) and active play with the family dog three or more times/week (OR = 1.74; 95% CI: 1.16, 2.59) increased the likelihood of prosocial behaviors. Family dog walking at least once/week also reduced the likelihood of total difficulties (OR = 0.64; 95% CI: 0.42, 0.96).
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings highlight the possible physical activity and social-emotional developmental benefits of family dog ownership for pre-schoolers, and that these benefits may present in early childhood.
IMPACT: Young children from dog-owning families had lower peer problems and conduct problems, and higher prosocial behaviors than children from non-dog-owning families.Children of dog-owning families who walked or played with their dog more often also had better prosocial behaviors.Positive social-emotional development was associated with dog ownership, family dog walking, and dog play in young children.Highlights that the social-emotional benefits of owning a dog may begin early in childhood.Due to the high level of pet ownership in households with children, these findings suggest having a dog and interacting with it through play and walking may be important mechanisms for facilitating young children's social-emotional development.
|Number of pages||7|
|Early online date||6 Jul 2020|
|Publication status||Published - Mar 2021|