Dogs benefit children in more ways than one

Growing up with pets has many benefits for children. Besides the emotional and physical health benefits, companion animals share unconditional love and teach life lessons about empathy, confidence and responsibility. Pets enrich and improve the lives of many children, particularly those with special needs.

Dogs NSW, the controlling body of purebred, pedigreed dog breeding and exhibiting, marks National Kids and Pets Day on April 26th to celebrate the special bond shared between children and their dogs, and remind parents about the importance of safety where dogs and children are concerned.

“Dogs are an important part of the family, and it’s important for kids and dogs to learn to be good companions to each other,” said Lyn Brown, Dogs NSW President.

Research shows that growing up with a pet can bring social, emotional and educational benefits to children and adolescents, giving them greater self-esteem, less loneliness and enhanced social skills¹. Reading to dogs can also boost reading skills in children and help with emotional and social skill development².

Dog therapy in schools

Responsible Pet Education TileDogs NSW member Lesley Shirley has seen the positive impact of dogs on child development in schools, as a pet educator with the NSW Government’s Responsible Pet Ownership Education Program.

The purpose of the ‘Living Safely With Pets’ program is to educate preschool and primary (K-2) school children and their parents about keeping kids safe around dogs, as well as the responsibilities of pet ownership.

“Dogs help support healthy child development. Their non-judgemental, unconditional love and affection can also be very therapeutic for a young person with special needs, like Autism,” said Mrs Shirley, a breeder of English Setters for 25 years, President of the NSW English Setter Club and Secretary of the Setter Club of NSW.

Whether Mrs Shirley and her dog ‘Gibbs’ visit a school for the deaf and blind, a special education class for kids with an intellectual disability or a preschool for children of all abilities, the magic of pet therapy has the same effect on youngsters everywhere.

“Dogs do not differentiate between a child who is deaf, autistic or in a wheelchair. They give all kids unconditional love,” she said.

Dog therapy in homes and in the showringNoah and Bullmastiffs credit Miriam OCallaghan

Children aren’t charmed by pets just in schools, but also in their own homes and in the showring! Dogs NSW member Miriam O’Callaghan and her husband veterinarian Dr Anthony O’Callaghan have been breeding Bullmastiffs for the past 10 years and have a teenage son with Down Syndrome who has benefited greatly from loving and being around their dogs.

“Noah spent many hours watching, cuddling and playing with the dogs, which have taught him how different the animal and human worlds are … subtle learning skills, but huge meaning and effect behind those skills,” said Mrs O’Callaghan. “Noah also has a strong affinity with young puppies and helps rear the babies whenever a litter is born.”

As for pet therapy in the showring, Dogs NSW runs Junior Handling, which allows young members (ages 7 to 18) to exhibit purebred dogs and develop confidence and good sportsmanship at competitions and weekly activities. Junior Handling also provides kids wonderful opportunities to make new friends, learn all about dogs and share their love of dogs.

James Collins, age 8, has Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and enjoys the company of his four-legged friends and competing in Junior Handling. Mum, Anne Collins, has shown dogs for pleasure for a number of years and said showing dogs has benefited James in many ways, bringing “the best out in him”.

James and Whippet Axl credit Anne Collins“Doing dog shows gets James out and amongst people, helps him meet other kids and builds his social skills,” she said.

Since competing in Junior Handling for over a year, James collected several ribbons and will also compete at this year’s Purina Pro Plan Sydney Royal Dog Show, supported by Dogs NSW.
It’s clear, dogs don’t discriminate who they love and offer many benefits for children to connect with the world around them.

Social media tags: #NationalKidsAndPetsDay

For more information about the NSW Government’s Responsible Pet Ownership Education Program, please contact the NSW Office of Local Government here.

¹ Companion Animals and Child/Adolescent Development: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [doi:10.3390/ijerph14030234]

² Hall, S., Gee, N., & Mills, D. (2016). Children Reading to Dogs: A Systematic Review of the Literature PLOS ONE, 11 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0149759

Photo of Noah supplied by Miriam O’Callaghan.

Photo of James supplied by Anne Collins.