Should Your Child Have a Dog?

Should your child have a dog?

Dog-human relationships can be very special, but nothing surpasses the dog-bond that can occur between a child and a dog.

Research  has shown that petting a dog increases levels of oxytocin in both the human and the dog. Oxytocin is the hormone that helps bond a nursing mother to her baby. It has a calming effect, which can contribute to the bond between a person and a dog.

This effect may be one reason that it can be invaluable for a child with Down syndrome to have a dog. John Barczak, a fifteen year old boy with Down syndrome, has a five-year old rescue Maltese dog named Alex. In this article, dog trainer Sarah Rothberger says, “There’s also something very tactile about dogs for people with disabilities. It improves the way people feel. It de-stresses them.” (Click here to read the full article at

Just the idea of trying to understand dog communication had a very life-changing effect on an autistic child who studied the photographs in “My Doggie Says…” The student’s teacher, in an elementary school in Cleveland, Ohio, used the book to get her normally non-communicative student to begin to relate to Jamie’s “messsages.” The teacher felt that the experience had a profound positive effect on the student.

I also see this “de-stressing” effect when my granddaughter Lauren visits with Callie Golden Retriever. Lauren loves to snuggle with Callie and to pretend she is Callie’s vet. Actually, Lauren, age seven, has declared that she wants to be a vet when she grows up. This positive feeling toward dogs probably started with Lauren’s relationship with Jamie Golden Retriever, heroine of “My Doggie Says… Messages from Jamie.” Here’s a photo of Lauren, at age two years, “experimenting” with Jamie.

On a recent trip to the east coast, I got to watch grandnephew Ferris interact with his new golden labrador retriever, Cooper. You can see from this photo how Cooper has tapped into Ferris’s positive reactions to touching Cooper. In this photo, you can feel the “de-stressing” of Ferris and Cooper’s relationship at work. (Ferris has no shortage of energy.)

One lesson I have learned is that children do not always have good instincts about how to deal with a dog. Granddaughter Amelia, two years old at the time, was very afraid of Callie’s exuberant displays of affection. When Callie approached Amelia, Amelia would turn and run, which, of course made matters worse with Callie. With a few hours of help from a professional dog trainer, we solved this problem. Amelia just had to learn to “stand up” to Callie. Once she learned to ignore Callie’s aggressive behavior, Amelia and Callie settled into a playful and loving relationship.

With a little special effort and dog training, you can help a child experience the joys of having a strong dog-bond with “man’s best friend.”

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