Man's Best Friend Could Be a Child's Best Friend, Too
If you have been considering getting a dog for some time now, a new study now gives you another great reason to get one.
Researchers from Bassett Medical Center in New York found that children who grow up with a dog tend to have less anxiety overall compared to children who did not. The study, conducted in December 2015, included 643 children between the ages of 6 and 7, so the findings were not based off of a normal study sample size. However, they still might have overarching results.
The results, which were published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, revealed that a mere 12 percent of children who had dogs in their homes had any form of anxiety. However, nearly a quarter of children who did not have a dog tested positive for some type of anxiety. The researchers are not sure how to analyze their findings.
"It may be that less anxious children have pet dogs or pet dogs make children less anxious," according to lead study author Dr. Anne Gadomski.
A serious trend
This is not the first time that dogs have been associated with stress relief. For years, dogs have been a great addition to therapy organizations that help people who have experienced any type of trauma. Therapy dogs are known for their stress- and anxiety-relieving ways, which is why they are growing in popularity and more organizations are popping up. Therapy dogs can be used in nursing homes, hospitals, medical facilities, veteran's associations, mental institutions and even schools.
Therapy dogs have been instrumental in helping all the students affected by the mass shootings in the past few years, including Sandy Hook Elementary and more recently, Umqua Community College in Oregon. They also have become present during finals week on many college campuses. Some colleges, such as Yale and Harvard University, which are known for their rigorous academic curriculums, have dogs on campus year round that students can pet sit for an hour to help them relax.
Dogs are also adopted by military veterans to help them with their anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and even depression. Several veterans have spoken out about the positive effects their dogs have had on them and talked about how their pets have truly saved their lives in some aspect. These adoptions are so common that many organizations are set up to train and adopt dogs specifically for military veterans. One popular organization is Pets for Patriots, which allows only veterans to adopt shelter dogs from across the country. Some dogs are trained to be prepared for both therapy and service, as they help veterans who are disabled and need aid getting through day-to-day tasks.
Regardless of the case, therapy dogs are part of animal-assisted therapy, where animals are part of the treatment for a therapy program designed for a patient. The aim is that the dog will be able to revive a person's social, emotional or mental functioning, depending on the trauma that they have been through. Whether it is children or adults, dogs have had a profound, positive impact on people.
A special connection
While dogs can be great with adults of any age, they tend to have a particularly special bond with children. In October 2015, another study was conducted by the research project Canines and Childhood Cancer wanted to find out what physical effects a dog had on a child with cancer. Their results, which were revealed at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Washington, DC, found that children had lower and more stable blood pressure when they were around the dogs, and were overall more calm.
For several weeks, the researchers measured patients' pulse rates, anxiety levels and blood pressures directly after they spent time with a dog. The patients got to pet the dogs, learn more about them and even watch them do tricks. Patients who did not have this engagement experience less consistent heart rates and blood pressure measures, proving that the dogs had a calming effect.
So what is it about dogs that cause such positive effects on children?
Gadomski believes that children and dogs form an incredible bond, especially if they grow up together.
"From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants," she noted. "Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children's mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment."
The results from Gadomski's study found that children tended to feel most anxious when they were left alone in the house or when they were in social situations. However, if the participant had a dog, that anxiety was alleviated.
"A pet dog can stimulate conversation, an ice-breaking effect that can alleviate social anxiety via a social catalyst effect," Gadomski noted.
Whether they are small or large, dogs can have a profound and wonderful effect on humans.