Ah, dogs. They’re sweet. They’re cuddly. And now, science proves once again that dogs truly are man’s best friend. A new study found dogs reduce stress in children.
Studying The Relationship Between Dogs and Kids
It’s no secret that many kids love dogs. But scientists wanted to take a closer look at exactly why kids seem so connected with their canine friends.
“Many people think pet dogs are great for kids but scientists aren’t sure if that’s true or how it happens,” said lead study researcher Darlene Kertes of The University of Florida.
Kertes started to wonder if dogs are simply fun for kids—or if they actually reduce stress for children. She put a team together and conducted a study of 100 pet-owning families.
The results of this first-of-its-kind study with children showed dogs caused a physical and emotional change in children during stressful situations.
Dogs Created Positive Physical Reaction
The most convincing evidence might be how scientists documented a child’s physical reaction to stress. Researchers divided the 100 kids (ranging in age from 7 to 12 years old) into three groups. Each group had to perform a public speaking test and mental arithmetic problems. Children in one group could have a dog with them during the activities. Another group could only have a parent. The last group had no one there to support them.
Before the test, each child provided saliva samples to measure cortisol levels. The body releases cortisol into our systems when we are under stress. Measuring cortisol levels before and after a stressful situation can show researchers how well we handle challenging situations.
Children who could sit near a dog to hold or pet during their test had lower cortisol levels compared to those who didn’t, according to the study results. The children also reported feeling less stressed with the dogs compared to being with a parent or having no one with them.
“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.”
New Study Supports Other Findings
This latest study supports a variety of other findings about dogs stress-reducing abilities. Multiple studies show that simply owning a dog can help ease depression and anxiety. In fact, doctors now order therapy dogs for some patients as a form of treatment for their disorders.
“Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression,” says Dr. Ian Cook, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA.
And for dog-lovers everywhere, it’s nice to see scientific evidence backing up what we already know to be true: Dogs rule.