There is more to your family pet than a silly, drooling plaything for the children, or snugly warm comfort on the couch. The advantages of dog ownership go far beyond the fact that they are cute, warm and cuddly. If you have been wondering whether buying or adopting a dog is the right thing for your family, here are a few of the reasons why it may be a very good idea:
They are good for everyone’s health. Children’s risk for developing allergies and asthma is reduced when they are exposed in early infancy to a dog in the household, with the exception, of course, of some children who are genuinely allergic to animals. Moreover, a study, in 2012, determined that pet owners tend to get sick less often and that children who lived with dogs were healthier in the first year of their lives reporting fewer respiratory problems and infections.
More health attributes that dogs offer to the young and elderly alike include weight maintenance, reduced blood pressure, and improved cardiovascular fitness. ‘People with pets enjoy superior self-esteem, while suffering less depression due to an optimistic mindset that companionship with animals engenders’, (TheAtlantic). Brushing, stroking and patting a furry animal can possibly lower stress and anxiety levels and that applies to the whole family alike.
“Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot little puppies.” – Gene Hill
They teach children values. Dog companionship can improve a child’s social skills with others and caring for a dog can encourage responsibility. While you will be the one doing the most pet-care chores, even the youngest of children can learn a lot by watching your nurturing example. As they grow up they will also be in charge of looking after the family pet learning how to feed, wash, pet and care for it. These kind of responsibilities will teach children values such as the importance of love, of being kind and gentle, compassionate and empathic.
Lifestyle considerations that influence your choice in a pet
- Little outdoor activity – If most of your time is spent at home, consider pets that would be happy to stay with you in that environment. You may enjoy playing with or cuddling a cat or a bunny; taking leisurely walks with an older dog; watching fish or reptiles; or talking or singing along with a bird.
- High activity level – If you’re more active and enjoy daily activities outside of your home, especially walking or running, an energetic dog might be right for you. Canine companions thrive on outdoor exercise, keeping you on the move.
- Small children and the elderly – Families with small children or elderly living in their homes should consider the size and energy level of a pet. Puppies and kittens are usually very active, but delicate creatures that must be handled with care. Large or rambunctious dogs could accidentally harm or knock over a small child or adult who is unsteady on his or her feet.
- Other animals in household – Consider the ongoing happiness and ability to adjust of the pets you already have. While your cat or a dog might love to have an animal friend to play with, a pet that has had exclusive access to your attentions may resent sharing you.
- Home environment – If a neat, tidy home, free of animal hair, occasional muddy footprints and “accidents” is important, then a free-roaming dog or long-haired cat may not be the best choice. You may want to choose pets that are confined to their quarters, such as fish, birds, hamsters, or reptiles.
- Landscaping concerns – With certain pets, your landscaping will suffer. Many dogs will be tempted to dig holes in your lawn, and dog urine can leave yellow patches—some say unaltered females cause the most damage.
- Time commitment – Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that you’ll be making a commitment that will last the lifetime of the pet—perhaps 10, 15, or 20 years with a dog or cat; as many as 30 years or more with a bird. You can, of course, consider adopting an older dog or cat from a shelter or rescue group and provide a deserving animal with a loving home for its senior years. (HelpGuide.org)
They encourage children’s emotional and cognitive development. Nurturing positive feelings towards a pet contributes towards children’s self-esteem and self-confidence. A good relationship with a dog can help children make friends at school, be more sociable, develop relationships of trust and enhance their non-verbal communication.
Pets can serve different purposes for children:
- They can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts–children often talk to their pets, like they do their stuffed animals.
- They provide lessons about life; reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement.
- They can help develop responsible behavior in the children who care for them.
- They provide a connection to nature.
- They can teach respect for other living things.
- Experience with loss if a pet is lost or dies. (AACAP)
They help build family bonds. One of the biggest benefits of growing up with pets is that it can help families grow stronger and closer. More than 85% of pet owners regard their pets as family members (Cohen, 2002). Many treat them as ‘‘full members’’ of the family. Dr. Melson says that: “whenever I ask children and parents if their pets are truly part of the family, most of them seem surprised — and almost offended — at the question. Of course they are”
A pet is usually the focus of family activities. They all share tasks such as walking, feeding or grooming.
One mother said: ‘‘our pets bring out the best in the kids in responsibility, kindness, affection, first-aid, and concern for other living things.’’
She added that all members of her family developed a much deeper respect for life in general. Pets also help prepare children for later life experiences, from pregnancy, birth, and rearing of offspring to the illness and death of a loved one. (FamilyProcess)
Adding a dog to your family is not only a great idea, but one with many benefits as well. Before getting a dog, though, make sure that you are aware that owning a pet is a big responsibility. You have to consider the lifetime costs of vets, food, etc and whether you are able to look after it appropriately. If you can, though, look forward to the most rewarding, unpredictably funny moments of your life (Read: “22 Ways Dogs Make Humans Healthier”).
Useful pet resources: