Study: Dogs Are In-Tune With Their Families, Even Kids
You already knew Fido is the perfect sidekick—now there's new research to support it.
Your pup and your kiddo are inseparable. They run and play ball outside, they snuggle on the couch, and come dinnertime your pooch is glued to your child's side. Sometimes, it even seems like they move in unison. That's not your imagination, says a new study out of Oregon State University.
Researchers observed 30 kids walk one at a time with their family dog, off-leash, through an empty warehouse. The kids followed taped lines on the floor, but sometimes paused, turned around, and changed direction. The cool news: The dogs matched their child's movements 60 percent of the time. When their child walked or stopped, typically so did the dog.
"This study suggests dogs are paying a lot of attention to the kids that they live with," Oregon State animal behaviorist Monique Udell, the lead author of the study, said in a news release from the university. "They are responsive to them and, in many cases, behaving in synchrony with them, indicators of positive affiliation and a foundation for building strong bonds."
This movement mimicry supports something we all kind of knew anyway—the love between kids and their dogs is real. And, a close relationship with a four-legged friend can be incredibly beneficial for children. A review of multiple studies showed that growing up with a dog can relieve loneliness and boost a child's self-esteem, among other potential emotional-health pluses. Not to mention, having a pup around is a great way to encourage kids to move more by playing, running, and walking with their dogs.
Giving your child extra responsibility for the family pup may further strengthen their relationship too. Researchers noticed that when the same study was done with adults, the dogs matched their caretaker's body movements more than 80 percent of the time. One theory why the score is higher for grown-ups than for kids is that dogs may be more clued into the body language of those they spend the most time with. (Why your dog won't give you any privacy is a whole other topic!)
To foster the bond between your child and pooch, let your kiddo take on more pet care duties like feeding and walking the dog. Kids can help dogs learn, too. A fun way to start is by letting your child teach your pup easy tricks. "What we are finding is that kids are very capable of training dogs, and that dogs are paying attention to the kids and can learn from them," Udell says.