A kid’s best friend: 5 reasons why dogs are good for kids

Is a dog a kid’s best friend, or a safety risk?  My colleague recently wrote this piece about why families with kids shouldn’t get dogs.  I disagree.  Here are my five reasons why dogs and kids are made for each other.

I have loved dogs my whole life.  I grew up with a golden retriever and I currently have a rescued chocolate lab.  I remember when I was 12 and my dad brought home a golden retriever puppy for our family.  I was the oldest child, so I would take him for walks in the morning before school, toilet train him on newspaper in the kitchen, and train him outside on the invisible electric fence.  I also remember how many holes he put in my clothes and shoes when he was a puppy.  One year, he stole my sister’s Christmas stocking and buried it in the backyard in the snow.  I sadly remember when my parents called while I was in college working on a paper, to tell me that my brother had found our dog in the living room having passed away peacefully in the night.

Dogs are animals, but they have a special place in my heart and the hearts of many adults and children.  If appropriately trained and supervised, dogs can provide many valuable lessons and other benefits to children.  Here are the top five reasons dogs are good for kids:

  1. Dogs teach children responsibility.  Having to remember to feed, provide water, and KidandDogsclean up after a dog can give children a sense of importance and satisfaction that they can’t get from school or other chores.  The relationship that develops can be life-changing for a child and a great support system as they themselves continue to grow and develop.
  2. Dogs teach children patience.  Dogs can be incredibly frustrating!  They chew, slobber, scratch and in other ways destroy many household items.  This teaches children to restrain themselves and not yell at or hit the dog for doing something it doesn’t understand is problematic.  Training a dog to walk on a leash, relieve itself outside, and sit can be very rewarding to the child.
  3. Dogs teach children compassion.  Just like humans, dogs feel emotion and pain.  They are prone to injuries and the infirmities of age during their relatively short lives.  As such, your children will witness a dog’s entire life cycle and likely grieve their passing.  This is an invaluable lesson for a child as they comfort their dog and cope with its loss.  Seeing a dog whimper in pain as it looks to them for help and comfort can teach your child the invaluable skill of helping others in need.
  4. Dogs teach children about socialization.  Like most of us, dogs are social animals who enjoy and need attention and affection.  By learning how to interact with a dog, children can learn how to better socialize with strangers and other children.  If they can learn the social cues of a dog, then interacting with humans who can talk will be a walk in the park (pun intended).
  5. Dogs are fun.  Last, but certainly not least, dogs are a lot of fun.  There are numerous breeds to fit every type of personality from a tiny Shitzu that can be dressed up in costumes to a 130 lb Great Dane, to my favorite, the rambunctious, energetic, slobbery lab.  They play fetch, tug-of-war, wrestle or can just keep your child company on a rainy day.  They greet you with a wagging tail every day and can cheer you up even on your worst days.

Many people have studied dog behavior in attempts to decipher their behavior, and the theories abound.  However, you just have to witness the interactions between dogs and children to realize the potential for greatness.  Dogs can sense when children with epilepsy are about to have a seizure, they can sense when a diabetic child’s sugar is low, and they can help children with severe physical disabilities find happiness in life.  Dogs have been immortalized in comic strips such as Marmaduke as well as movies like Turner and Hooch and more recently, Marley and Me.

Parents with young children do need to use common sense to keep their children safe near a dog.  Don’t let dogs and babies/toddlers play together on the floor or sleep together.

With the proper training and supervision, a dog can enrich your child’s life.  After all, dogs are basically four-legged children who never grow up.

Kevin Barton, MD About Kevin Barton, MD

Dr. Kevin Barton is an instructor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and a pediatric hospitalist at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Comments

  1. I know there are frequently two sides to a story, considering how I’m subscribed to this blog due to its supposed medical advice for parents, I would appreciate if this entry contained information pertaining to health and medicine beyond a dog lover’s opinion. (was at least expecting, for example, the study on dogs and decreased allergy in children).

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