A new survey amongst Aussie dog owners confirms something many families have suspected all along – just like ice cream and chocolate topping, kids and dogs are made for each other.
Commissioned by long-lasting paralysis tick and flea treatment Bravecto®, the survey results reveal the latest insights into the positive, long-lasting effects our four-legged friends have on children and the entire household.
The life lessons children can learn from pet ownership are many. The main benefits dogs provide Aussie children are ranked as companionship (73%), emotional bonding (67%), having fun (66%) and learning responsibility (61%). Dogs also provide a range of unique comforts to kids – playing games comes out top (53%), followed by snuggling on the couch (41%) and going to the park (39%).
A dog is touted as -man's best friend', but household pets are often a child's best friend too. The Bravecto survey reveals a family dog has a huge positive impact on the emotional wellbeing of children, with 85 per cent feeling happy, 67 per cent feeling loved, and 64 per cent feeling safe when their four-legged friend is close by. Interestingly, children aged 6 to 12 years of age are more likely to feel loved (75%) and those aged 13 to 18 years of age are more likely to feel content (62%).
Laura V, Australia's most well-loved animal behaviourist, believes that this bond allows dogs to feel these things too, creating harmony in the home.
'The purest love of all is the love between a dog and child. Dogs teach children such invaluable lessons in life and ultimately assist in raising them to be good, empathetic people," Laura comments.
Children benefit from dog ownership in terms of responsibility, a great stepping stone for the demands of adult life. The Bravecto survey indicates Aussie kids don't just -pet and forget'; 71 per cent of Aussie children take responsibility for feeding their dog, while 65 per cent either took care of or participated in the walking and exercising of their pet. To the delight of many Aussie parents, nearly half of all children (46%) cleaned up the dog poo…a thankless task, loved by none!
Laura V adds: 'Dogs are the best teachers! No matter what our age, dogs teach us about kindness, responsibility, trust and respect. If we let them, they make us better people."
The essential art of compassion can also be nurtured through pet ownership, providing children with many priceless gifts along the way. The Bravecto survey clearly points to the relationship between dogs and children as being one of both compassion and companionship. Over half (58%) of Aussie parents feel the longer a pooch is in the household, the stronger the bond is between the dog and a child. Conversely, parents believe their child would feel lonely (47%), bored (38%) and sad (33%) without their four-legged companion.
Laura V believes caring for a dog can help children's development both emotionally and physically: 'The Bravecto survey shows children often adopt the task of caring for their dog which teaches them how to care for others."
Are Aussie kids and their dogs a match made in heaven? If the research results are anything to go by, quite possibly.
Question: Can you tell us about the key findings of the survey results?
Laura V: Bravecto's research found that the bond between children and dogs is incredibly special. A dog in a child's life provides companionship, fun, responsibility, compassion and increases their physical activity too. Interestingly, Bravecto's research also found that dogs help improve a child's communication skills, which is especially valuable for kids who are learning to socialise and build confidence around others. But what was especially telling to me was how children felt if they did not have a dog in their life. Emotions such as sadness, boredom and loneliness were mentioned, which highlights the value of dogs as part of the family and how they can not only teach children invaluable lessons, they can make children feel safe and loved.
Question: What surprised you most when reading over the survey results?
Laura V: Perhaps the most surprising revelation was that children are so committed to having a dog as part of their family that they are willing to go the extra mile to prove they are responsible. When I read that children are happy to pick up their dog's poo from the yard, I was certainly surprised, but at the same time extremely impressed to see so many young people are prepared to acknowledge the needs of their dog and provide them with essential care; even if they have to pick up after them. Who would have thought it was easier to motivate a child to pick up dog poo over picking up their socks on the floor!
Question: Do you own a dog? Did you grow up with a four-legged best friend?
Laura V: Yes! I have two dogs in my life, Alma and Chester. They are both Staffordshire Bull Terriers and absolute sweethearts! When I was growing up, we had dogs everywhere on our acreage. Something about our family seemed to attract all the lost dogs from the local area. They would wonder up our driveway and end up never leaving. At any time we would have 10 - 15 dogs contentedly lounging on our property, keeping me company. I grew up with them at my side and learned a lot from them.
Question: How did your childhood benefit from a family dog?
Laura V: I think everything good I have learned in life, I have learned from a dog. Dogs have taught me about compassion and empathy, just like Bravecto's research describes. I learned to be a better listener, to think from another's point of view and put others' needs before mine. Dogs in my childhood were also a great comfort for me, especially after my dad passed away when I was 12. They were always there to console and listen without judgement or pity. I think in many ways, dogs have made me who I am today and I couldn't imagine life without them.
Question: What did you learn from having a dog, when young?
Laura V: I learned that your clothes can never be clean for more than 5 minutes! On a more serious note, I discovered something quite unique from dogs and that was to live more in the moment. I was always such a worry-wart when growing up, but dogs were able to help me become mindful. Dogs give such great energy, especially when we need them the most. As a dog behaviourist, I now know that whilst we are comforted in times of distress by our dogs, it is important not to burden our dogs with our anxieties too much. They pick up on our emotions so well, sometimes even before we know how we are feeling. The more we learn to be calm and mindful, the more our dogs will benefit from this mindset too.
Question: Can you talk about the benefits of the special bond between children and dogs in Australia?
Laura V: I don't think we can thank dogs enough for the gifts they give children in this country. Dogs are extraordinarily intuitive and able to take care of children in ways humans can't. Bravecto's research unsurprisingly describes this bond as very special and for me, research like this is essential in proving that dogs make children better people. I have seen first-hand how dogs help children who have experienced bullying, recover with more resilience and tolerance. I have seen children who struggle to read, build confidence in their literacy skills, through reading to a dog. I have even observed a child too anxious to verbally communicate say her first words to her family dog. There are countless benefits of this bond and it is exciting to be having such positive conversations around children and dogs!
Question: How are dogs benefiting children, emotionally and physically?
Laura V: A dog has a natural instinct to explore, which encourages children to spend more time outside, exercising, playing and interacting with others. What is striking about the time spent between a child and dog is that, when they share a bond, their brain responds similarly. Happy chemicals are released in both brains, making them more connected and content. Children and dogs who play together are also more receptive to learning and have an improved memory. With both at a similar cognitive development level, it is no surprise that children and dogs benefit in similar ways.
Question: What do families have to acknowledge before buying a dog, for their children?
Laura V: Before adopting a dog, it is important to recognise that whilst your child is willing to take responsibility for their care, parents ultimately oversee this care. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge your lifestyle, including how much time you have to invest in essential exercise and care each day. Do you have a yard? Does the care of a dog fit into your budget? If you're renting, do you have approval from your landlord? When the times get tough through puppy-hood, are you willing to keep committed so that your puppy/dog learns to grow into a well behaved and happy family member? There are so many questions to ask, but once you answer them and decide to adopt, it is without a doubt one of the best relationships you and your family will ever have!
Question: How can parents begin to encourage their children to look after the family pet?
Laura V: There needs to be mutual benefit in caring for a dog. This means that the child needs to be rewarded for showing kindness and compassion and the dog needs to be rewarded for the child's involvement. Young children tend to thrive on the encouragement of being trusted with some responsibility. Provide opportunities for them to safely be involved in most aspects of the dogs care, including feeding (never approaching a dog when they are eating), grooming, bathing, basic training and safe play (fetch etc). The more a child has invested in the dog's care, the more they feel invested in the relationship.
Question: What are some of the best family dog breeds, for Australian families?
Laura V: I'm always reluctant to recommend a particular breed, as the individual dog is more telling than the breed they are represented by. Having said that however, no matter if the dog is a pure breed, or mixed breed, there are countless shelters across Australia, who have temperament tested their dogs up for adoption. The dogs usually come with a profile and whether they are suitable for a family with children. We have so many dogs in this country looking for a second chance, so for me, it is a great learning opportunity for a child as well.
Question: Why do you use Bravecto products, on your animals?
Laura V: I always try to create positive experiences for my dogs wherever I can. Keeping them tick and flea free has never been a treatment they looked forward to, and whilst they tolerated previous treatments, I can now use something that not only works, but is a positive experience for them. Building trust and respect is so important for you and your dog, and Bravecto allows me to maintain that whilst ensuring my dogs are safe from nasty parasites. The other thing I love about Bravecto is it's convenience. The chew only needs to be given every 3 months. I only need to think about treatment, each time the season changes, instead of every month.
Interview by Brooke Hunter