It's no secret that we humans adore dogs.
From Queen Elizabeth and her pack of Corgis to Dorothy and her faithful sidekick Toto, humans have relied on the company of canines for hundreds of years.
Growing up with a dog by your side often enhances your childhood in a way that is unimaginable to those who don't. However, it's only now, through modern science, that are we beginning to understand the true benefits of dog ownership in our formative years.
From improving our physical and mental health to encouraging cognitive development and providing emotional support, it seems there's a good reason why dogs are commonly referred to as man's best friend.
Dogs can strengthen a child's immune system
While lots of new parents are keen to keep their little ones safe from potentially dangerous germs and bugs, dogs will inevitably bring these into the home – and this might not be a bad thing.
A study by The New England Journal of Medicine found that children in Indiana who had been exposed to animals within the first year of their lives were better protected against allergies and illnesses like asthma. Their early exposure to microbes, allergens, and microbial products means their immune system is better equipped to handle allergens later on.
Dogs can provide a sense of responsibility
For most people, the first living being to ever wholly rely on them will be a pet – likely a dog. They need walking, feeding, to be played with, to be loved. These are important attributes to practise, and it can be beneficial to encourage nurturing behaviour at an early age. In fact, many guides recommend that you give your children certain responsibilities in pet ownership – such as the daily walk or feed, depending on their age.
Dogs encourage a healthy lifestyle, with more time outdoors
Having a dog can encourage children to get outside, take in some fresh air, and play the old-fashioned way. What's more, just going on regular walks offers children the opportunity to learn more about their natural surroundings, something you can't always teach in the classroom or sat behind a computer screen. It’s a great way to spend time together as a family too.
Dogs can teach children an important lesson on life and death
While you might think that the death of a beloved pet dog would have a solely negative impact on a child, this exposure to the harsh realities of life and death can be an introduction to the impermanence of life. Of course, the death of a pet is painful, and we naturally want to protect our children from the cruelty of the world, but such an experience can equip children with the emotional tools to deal with more difficult events down the line.
Dogs can promote social skills and self-esteem in children
A 2017 study suggests that growing up with a pet (especially a dog or a cat) can bring educational, emotional, and social benefits to youngsters' lives. It's suggested that dogs might act as a form of psychological support, and the study found that kids with pets experience less loneliness, more self-esteem, and greater social skills. Researchers suggested that looking after a dog might "help youths feel good about themselves, and enable a positive self-image".
Dogs are fun
Everyone loves dogs, and dogs love humans. They're playful, pure-hearted, and relentlessly loyal. From playing fetch in the park to curling up by your side after a long day, dogs are happy to do whatever as long as it is by your side. While there are plenty of physical and psychological benefits of having a dog, the simplest and most important way a dog can change a child's life is through its completely unfaltering, totally unconditional love.