The kids named our crazy cairn terrier Skipper because he likes to skip in the grass. Besides his fun and frolicking personality, our beloved furry companion offers the kids a host of physical and emotional benefits. Here's what we've learned and what recent research on pet ownership tells us:
Snuggling with a furry pet lowers your blood pressure and stress levels, and raises "good mood" chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. A Finnish study published in 2012 showed that living with dogs also strengthens the immune system of young kids, maybe because a dog brings more dirt into their lives.
A tired dog is a good dog runs the motto of a training place near us. So the kids take Skipper on lots of walks and play fetch in the fresh air, away from screens. Such workouts benefit those on each end of the leash. In a 2011 Michigan State University study, half the dog walkers averaged 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week; only a third of the non-dog-walkers moved as much.
Pets = chores. In our family, my 13-year-old son cares for Skipper on odd-numbered days, while my daughter, 10, gets the even ones. They must fill his food and water bowls and take him for daily walks -- no exemptions for bad moods or bad weather. Bonus: Dogs' woeful looks encourage compliance. Skipper's button eyes and Flock of Seagulls hairdo amplify the effect.
Pet owners tend to be less lonely and have higher self-esteem, says a 2011 Miami University and St. Louis University study. And animals offer comfort as well as joy; when my son has a bad day, he heads straight for Skipper. Pets lend a nonjudgmental ear to kids' secrets and sorrows. As the saying goes: "To err is human, to forgive, canine."
Animals often provide the first lessons about life: birth, reproduction, illnesses, accidents, and death. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (aplb.org) has a great list of children?s books about coping with the passing of a pet, such as The Comeback Dog, by Jane Resh Thomas.