Growing up with a puppy can enrich the lives of children in many ways.
Providing you choose a dog that is a good fit for your family, growing up with a puppy is one of the greatest gifts parents can give a child. The many rewards of pet ownership include learning responsibility and empathy, receiving unconditional love, and gaining knowledge about animals (not to mention the sheer joy kids can get from bonding with a dog).
"Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having pets," says Lee Amiti of the Animal Adoption Agency.
"Unlike parents, pets are never critical and don't give orders. They are always loving and their mere presence at home can help provide a sense of security in children."
Amiti believes that having an ever-present dog can help ease separation anxiety in children when mom and dad aren't around, and notes that studies have shown that pets can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive children. However, she cautions that both child and pet "need to be trained to behave appropriately around each other."
"Children and adults alike can benefit from playing with pets, which can be both a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body," she says.
"Playing with a pet can even be a doorway to learning for a child. It can stimulate a child's imagination and curiosity. The rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the importance of perseverance."
Pets can be particularly rewarding for children with autism or learning disabilities. Autistic children often rely on nonverbal cues to communicate, just as pets do. Learning to first connect with a cat or dog may even help an autistic child in their interactions with people. For children with learning disabilities, pets can be a great antidote to stress and frustration, while exercising and playing with them can also be beneficial.
Dr. Natalie Burke, a veterinarian with the RSPCA Yagoona Veterinary Clinic, says that companionship is the single most important thing a child gains from growing up with a dog.
"Having a friend that is always loyal and that will be there unconditionally whenever you need them is something that only animals can provide," Burke says. "They give comfort and friendship to children on a deep level and most children who have a dog feel a special bond with their pet that is lasting," she says.
"They also teach kids about the importance of sticking with things, putting in the work, and being responsible. Having a dog can also bring the family together, allowing more group activities and outings with the puppy."
However, she also cautions that it is important that the child (or children) and puppy be well suited to one another.
"Having an overactive, extroverted puppy and a placid child may not work and, in reverse, children that tend to be a bit rough when they play are not suited to timid, gentle pups. Animals bring out the best in us, and the same goes for children."
Burke suggests that before buying a puppy, parents need to do their research properly on the breed and make sure they understand its needs. "Please also consider adopting a puppy from an animal shelter, as shelters have plenty of wonderful puppies looking for loving homes," she says.
This article was originally written by Now to Love editors. For more, check out our sister site, Now to Love.