“Many people think pet dogs are great for kids but scientists aren’t sure if that’s true or how it happens,” Darlene Kertes, author of the recent study, said. One of these, she pointed, is the commonly held belief that these pet dogs provide social support to children.
And so, together with her colleagues, they’ve recruited 100 pet-owning families with a child (aging 7 to 12 years old). Children were asked to complete a public speaking task and mental arithmetic task for both are known to trigger real-life stress and the increase of the stress hormone, cortisol.
“Middle childhood is a time when children’s social support figures are expanding beyond their parents, but their emotional and biological capacities to deal with stress are still maturing,” Kertes explained. “Because we know that learning to deal with stress in childhood has lifelong consequences for emotional health and well-being, we need to better understand what works to buffer those stress responses early in life.”
The children faced the stressors either with their dog present, with their parent present, or with no social support at all. For their cortisol levels, samples of saliva was collected before and after the stressor. And the study yielded such amazing results.
“Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out,” Kertes said . “Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support.”
“[Also,] children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less,” said Kertes, an assistant professor in the psychology department of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”
Well, gain extra “charm points” and be the coolest mom/dad ever- consider giving your child a new puppy for his/her next birthday present and provide extra social support that he/she needed as well!