When I was a young kid, we had a beautiful copper-colored Irish Setter named “Shane” at home. I don’t recall much about Shane except that he loved to burst out of the house and run around the neighborhood the moment he could break free.
But I do remember Romeo, the salt-and-pepper-furred, floppy-eared Yorkshire Terrier who became my buddy at home when I was a stressed-out, sleep-deprived teen. I fed him, bathed him, and took him for walks. In return, he greeted me with excitement whenever I would come home from a long day at school, and would keep me company in the wee hours of the night, while I crammed for my next trigonometry test or Spanish quiz.
I think any dog lover would attest to the unique sort of companionship that only dogs can provide. And now there’s an emerging body of scientific evidence to back-up another thing dog lovers know very well: Dogs are good for kids.
“It’s really good for children to care for a dog, and the benefits are even greater for those with developmental and behavioral problems,” says Dr. Matia Finn-Stevenson, a research scientist with the Child Study Center at Yale University.
UN short video recently produced by Yale Medical School highlights four ways dogs help children:
1. Dogs make children happy.
According to Yale researchers, “being with a dog triggers a spike in the hormone oxytocin, which makes children feel happier and more social.” Ever get that warm and fuzzy feeling when you open the door to your home and your dog greets you by jumping up and down and frantically licking your face? Kids love that.
In an innovative initiative piloted in several New York City schools, dogs are brought into schools to provide support for children during difficult situations. Writing for Reuters, Gabriella Borter describes how the “Comfort Dog” initiative, led by Chancellor Carmen Fariña of the New York City Department of Education, “brings rescue dogs into the classroom to promote social emotional learning.”
The New York City schools chosen by the Department of Education for the Comfort Dog program will join over 4,000 schools across the United States and Canada that have implemented various versions of the Mutt-i-grees curriculum, a program developed by Dr. Finn-Stevenson of Yale that aims to “integrate rescue dogs into classroom lessons on empathy, resilience and conflict resolution.”
2. Dogs help children learn to care for others.
“Usually children are cared for; walking and feeding a dog lets them learn it feels good to care for others,” say Yale researchers. I just had to whisper the word “walk” and Romeo would light up and start jumping up and down in anticipation. Did caring for Romeo make me a more caring person, a more responsible parent even? I’m not sure about the linkage, but I do remember enjoying taking care of him, especially when it was time to give him a much needed bath.
3. Dogs make children gentle.
“Even the most rambunctious children tend to calm down and become protective when with dogs,” say researchers at Yale. This calming effect is visible at one school where the Comfort Dog has proven a success. “When distressed students at Middle School 88 in Brooklyn end up in the principal’s office, Petey Parker, a rescued Shih Tzu, often totters over, tail wagging, to comfort them,” writes Borter.
4. Dogs foster independence.
“Being responsible for a dog makes children feel proud. Also it naturally leads them to take better care of themselves,” say Yale researchers.
So do dogs teach kids to brush their teeth and finish their homework on time? I’m not sure, but if the scientists at Yale are right, having a dog around the house can be a positive influence on them.
This article also appeared on LinkedIn.