Improved child development
Pet ownership provides many general benefits to human health. Those that especially relate to children include:
Benefits to Health
The encouragement of greater fitness and higher levels of physical activity. This is especially important in view of the worrying increased trend of child obesity.
- The development of a more stable immune system (particularly between the ages of five and eight).
- The provision of comfort during recovery from illness or injury and rehabilitation.
- The reduction in the incidence of hay fever and asthma, with less likelihood of children developing allergies to animals if they are exposed to pets during their first year of life.
Benefits to education
As well as all the fun elements associated with owning a dog (or indeed any pet), there are many potential educational benefits. Owning a pet can teach a child about the responsibilities of life and mutual trust and thereby improve relationships with other pupils, parents and teachers. By feeding and exercising a pet,
Children can also develop an understanding of daily care. Incidentally, it has been shown that these lessons can also addressed in schools using the Blue Dog programme. Find out more by visiting the teachers’ toolbox.
Pets in the classroom
School pets have been found to:
- Motivate pupils to think and learn
- Foster a sense of responsibility in children
- Teach children nurturing skills
- Encourage a feeling of empathy for others
- Improve academic achievement
- Lead to improved school attendance rates
- Stimulate social integration and social competence
However, having a pet in school is a big commitment, as the welfare of the animal has to be ensured at all times. The International Association of Human Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO) has summarised the requirements as the Rio Declaration, and this can be found on the IAHAIO website: www.iahaio.org
Pets can also be brought into the classroom by visiting speakers (eg veterinarians). Some dog bite prevention education programmes successfully utilise live dogs in schools (ref Hildegard, ?? Swiss programme). However, there needs to be careful selection of the dog and handler to avoid accidents, which makes it difficult to implement on a wide scale. By not using live animals, the Blue Dog programme avoids these potential dangers.
Children with learning difficulties
Children with learning difficulties can benefit from interaction with pets. One study found that the presence of a dog helped to channel the children's attention and responsiveness towards the therapist's suggestion. In effect, the dog helped increase the attention span of the children.
One project worthy of special mention was reported at the IAHAIO conference in Tokyo in 1997. Robin Zelcher worked in a school for children with special needs in Jerusalem. The school had some animals and Robin had the idea that the children could take the animals to a local residential home for the elderly. In the event, the animals proved to be a catalyst to facilitate the communication between the children and the old people, with benefits to all. The programme was such a success that it was followed up with a visit to a zoo, the children acting as escorts to the elderly.
Benefits to psychological development
As well as the educational benefits highlighted above, contact with companion animals has been shown to be important in several areas of child development. Children who own pets are often less self-centred than those who do not, and seem more likely to develop humane attitudes such as empathy and nurturing. This helps to stimulate better social integration and social competence.
Studies have also demonstrated the importance of pets providing social support particularly during transitional periods such as during adolescence or periods of family illness or breakdown. In addition pets have been used successfully in the rehabilitation of young offenders who have often previously shown violent tendencies.
Benefits to children with physical disabilities and autism
Specially trained assistance dogs are now provided for children with physical disabilities as well as to support families with children with autism. Follow the link to assistance dogs.
For more information, check the SCAS website: www.scas.org.uk