An experiment for Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology analyzed the lives of middle school students and recently proved that family pets–specifically dogs–truly are children’s best friends. Naturally, kids receive more satisfaction from their relationships with pets than from those with siblings, especially since family connections can be difficult. Dogs help kids step out of their comfort zones, allowing them to find their voices and become less self-conscious. For this reason, pets play a crucial role in child development, social skills and overall well-being.
“The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back [to the child] may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental,” said Matt Cassels of Cambridge University.
This study was based off of a survey of 77 12-year-olds, each having least one sibling and one pet at home. These kids reported having strong relationships and low levels of conflict with their family pets as well as their family and friends. Doctors expect to see more long-term psychological benefits resulting from owning a family pet.
While dogs are proven to have strong relations with children of all ages, pet ownership has also been linked to better mental and physical health in adults. Generally, studies regarding the benefits from owning a pet are dismissed, as there is no scientific proof backing up these claims. However, a panel of experts from the American Heart Association, who still lack visible proof, have weighed all available evidence and concluded that owning a pet, particularly a dog, lowers the risk of heart disease.
“People who have dogs live longer than people who have cats, and the assumption has been that dogs naturally cause their owners to be more active,” said Dr. Thomas Lee, Co-Editor in Chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. “The emotional benefits of having an affectionate creature are also one of the theories for why dog-lovers live longer.”
Dogs are physically beneficial because they force their owners to exert more energy than they would without a dog. Evidence shows that dog owners are more likely to exercise and have better cholesterol levels, blood pressure and higher chances of surviving a heart attack. They are also less prone to stress caused by physical activity.
On the other hand, Dr. Lee suggested that healthier people with naturally active lifestyles and little to no heart risk are more inclined to own and care for a dog, providing a different explanation for the connection between healthy individuals and pets. The AHA panel failed to reject Lee’s valid argument.
Since proving a dog’s benefits to humans is very difficult, experimental flaws can easily derail any possible associations between health and pet ownership. Nevertheless, pets bring endless joy and fun experiences while also providing potential health benefits.