9 Surprising Ways Having a Dog Benefits Your Kids

My son is an only child, so the relationship he’s developed with our rescue mutt, Lola, is extra special. Always by his side when he curls up to read or watch cartoons, Lola is his constant companion as well as his playmate. The advantages of having a dog don’t end there — and they’re certainly not limited to families with one child. Here are even more ways that having a dog benefits children.

1. Dogs are natural stress-busters. “All the research I’ve seen on the subject says that there’s almost no better way to help a child deal with stress than with the company of a loving pet,” says Denise Daniels, a parenting and child development expert who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.

2. They teach responsibility. Even at a very early age, children can be taught graduated levels of accountability, from how to pet a dog gently to filling a food bowl to walking the dog. Every time we go to el mercado, for example, my son automatically grabs a bag of Beneful IncrediBites, in addition to his own favorite foods. He knows that feeding Lola is part of the responsibility of having her, so he stocks up on food for her, too.

3. Dogs are never judgy. Unlike parents, who love their kids unconditionally but also have to be disciplinarians, “a dog simply shows a child the meaning of true friendship,” Daniels says. If a kid does something wrong, pets never leave him feeling judged.

4. They lure kids outside. Dogs need to be walked and they generally love to play fetch and run. Whenever I think my son needs to get away from the TV or video screen, I suggest we walk the dog. Before I know it, they’re both running through the grassy field near our house, beaming.

5. Dogs can help children with autism develop social skills. A University of Missouri study found that children with autism have stronger social skills when a dog lives in the home. “Children were more likely to engage in behaviors such as introducing themselves, asking for information, or responding to other people’s questions,” says Gretchen Carlisle, research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, in Columbia, Missouri.

6. They teach boys nurturing skills. It’s totally cool to be loving, gentle and affectionate with a dog, says Daniels. “This is especially important for boys, who—for all our efforts and awareness—are still not encouraged to show tender feelings.”

7. Dogs provide stability. Daniels says she learned this lesson firsthand after a house fire left the family displaced, and their dog, Alfie, a Newfoundland, couldn’t stay with them. “It wasn’t until we were reunited in our new house that our family was truly whole,” she says. “People and situations can be unpredictable, but pets are stable, loyal, and true.”

8. They teach empathy. A dog will run to the door when it wants to go outside, prompting children to consider the feelings and needs of someone beside themselves. The same is true when dogs whine because they’re hungry or simply nudge you with their snout when they’re feeling cariñoso.

9. Dogs can help a child feel safe. Canines hear and smell things that the average human can’t. Once kids realize this, it can help them feel safer to know there’s a dog in the house that will alert everyone if something is amiss. This is also true when they’re outside and near strangers. Our dog, Lola, is barely 12 pounds, but she acts like a heavy-duty alarm system with her growling and barking at odd sounds. My son calls her “security.”

*This post is sponsored by Beneful. The opinions and stories are my own.