The relationship between dog ownership, dog play, family dog walking, and pre-schooler social–emotional development: findings from the PLAYCE observational study

Abstract

Background

Regular physical activity provides children with health and developmental benefits. This study investigated if active play and walking with the family dog was associated with better social–emotional development in young children.

Methods

We surveyed 1646 parents to ascertain if families with pre-schoolers owned a dog, and the frequency per week their child went on family dog walks or actively played with their dog. The parent-report version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was used to measure children’s social–emotional development.

Results

Children from dog-owning households had reduced likelihood of conduct problems (odds ratio (OR) = 0.70; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.54, 0.90), peer problems (OR = 0.60; 95% CI: 0.46, 0.79), and total difficulties (OR = 0.77; 95% CI: 0.59, 0.99) and increased likelihood of prosocial behavior (OR = 1.34; 95% CI: 1.06, 1.68) compared with children without a dog. Within dog-owning households, family dog walking at least once/week (OR = 1.45; 95% CI: 1.02, 2.08) and active play with the family dog three or more times/week (OR = 1.74; 95% CI: 1.16, 2.59) increased the likelihood of prosocial behaviors. Family dog walking at least once/week also reduced the likelihood of total difficulties (OR = 0.64; 95% CI: 0.42, 0.96).

Conclusions

Our findings highlight the possible physical activity and social–emotional developmental benefits of family dog ownership for pre-schoolers, and that these benefits may present in early childhood.

Impact

  • Young children from dog-owning families had lower peer problems and conduct problems, and higher prosocial behaviors than children from non-dog-owning families.

  • Children of dog-owning families who walked or played with their dog more often also had better prosocial behaviors.

  • Positive social–emotional development was associated with dog ownership, family dog walking, and dog play in young children.

  • Highlights that the social–emotional benefits of owning a dog may begin early in childhood.

  • Due to the high level of pet ownership in households with children, these findings suggest having a dog and interacting with it through play and walking may be important mechanisms for facilitating young children’s social–emotional development.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    Active Healthy Kids Australia. Muscular Fitness: It’s Time for a Jump Start: 2018 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children & Young People. http://www.activehealthykidsaustralia.com.au/siteassets/documents/2018/ahka-report-card-long-form-2018-final-for-web.pdf (2018).

  2. 2.

    Carson, V. et al. Systematic review of the relationships between physical activity and health indicators in the early years (0–4 years). BMC Public Health 17, 854 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Christian, H. et al. A Snapshot of the PLAYCE Project: Findings from the Western Australian Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity (PLAYCE) Study: Supportive Childcare Environments for Physical Activity in the Early Years (The University of Western Australia, School of Population and Global Health, Perth, 2018).

  4. 4.

    Australian Government Department of Health. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and the Australian 24-hour Movement Guidelines. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines (2017).

  5. 5.

    Hnatiuk, J. A., Salmon, J., Hinkley, T., Okely, A. D. & Trost, S. A review of preschool children’s physical activity and sedentary time using objective measures. Am. J. Prev. Med. 47, 487–497 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Canadian Society for Excercise Physiology. Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. <https://csepguidelines.ca/wp-content/themes/csep2017/pdf/PAR7972_24h_Guidelines_EY_En-4.pdf> (2017).

  7. 7.

    World Health Organisation. Guidelines on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep for Children under 5 years of Age. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311664/9789241550536-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (2019).

  8. 8.

    Soini, A. et al. Seasonal and daily variation in physical activity among three-year-old Finnish preschool children. Early Child Dev. Care 184, 589–601 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Ellis, Y. G. et al. Sedentary time, physical activity and compliance with IOM recommendations in young children at childcare. Prev. Med. Rep. 7, 221–226 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Tremblay, M. S. et al. Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for the early years (0–4 years): an integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. BMC Public Health 17, 874 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Smith, M. et al. Results from New Zealand’s 2018 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. J. Phys. Act. Health 15, S390–S392 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Christian, H., Trapp, G., Lauritsen, C., Wright, K. & Giles-Corti, B. Understanding the relationship between dog ownership and children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Pediatr. Obes. 8, 392–403 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Esposito, L., McCune, S., Griffin, J. A. & Maholmes, V. Directions in human–animal interaction research: child development, health, and therapeutic interventions. Child Dev. Perspect. 5, 205–211 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Purewal, R. et al. Companion animals and child/adolescent development: a systematic review of the evidence. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 14, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14030234 (2017).

  15. 15.

    Timmons, B. W. et al. Systematic review of physical activity and health in the early years (aged 0–4 years). Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 37, 773–792 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Schofield, G., Mummery, K. & Steele, R. Dog ownership and human health-related physical activity: an epidemiological study. Health Promot. J. Aust. 16, 15–19 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Westgarth, C., Christley, R. M. & Christian, H. E. How might we increase physical activity through dog walking?: A comprehensive review of dog walking correlates. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act. 11, 83 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Martin, K. E., Wood, L., Christian, H. & Trapp, G. S. A. Not just “A walking the dog”: dog walking and pet play and their association with recommended physical activity among adolescents. Am. J. Health Promot. 29, 353–356 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Salmon, J., Timperio, A., Chu, B. & Veitch, J. Dog ownership, dog walking, and children’s and parents’ physical activity. Res. Q. Exerc. Sport 81, 264–271 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Owen, C. G. et al. Family dog ownership and levels of physical activity in childhood: findings from the child heart and health study in England. Am. J. Public Health 100, 1669–1671 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Van Houtte, B. A. & Jarvis, P. A. The role of pets in preadolescent psychosocial development. J. Appl. Dev. Psychol. 16, 463–479 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Vidović, V. V., Štetić, V. V. & Bratko, D. Pet ownership, type of pet and socio-emotional development of school children. Anthrozoös 12, 211–217 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    McNicholas, J. & Collis, G. M. Children’s representations of pets in their social networks. Child Care Health Dev. 27, 279–294 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Wells, D. L. The effects of animals on human health and well-being. J. Soc. Issues 65, 523–543 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Jalongo, M. An attachment perspective on the child–dog bond: Interdisciplinary and international research findings. Early Child Educ. J. 43, 395–405 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Smith, B. The ‘pet effect’ Health related aspects of companion. Aust. Fam. Physician 41, 439–442 (2012).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Christian, H. et al. Dog walking is associated with more outdoor play and independent mobility for children. Prev. Med. 67, 259–263 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Roberts, J. D., Rodkey, L., Grisham, C. & Rashawn, R. The influence of family dog ownership and parental perceived built environment measures on children’s physical activity within the Washington, DC Area. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 14, 1398 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Christian, H. et al. Influence of the day care, home and neighbourhood environment on young children’s physical activity and health: protocol for the PLAYCE observational study. BMJ Open 6, e014058 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Australian Government Department of Social Services. Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Survey. https://growingupinaustralia.gov.au/ (2005).

  31. 31.

    Hinkley, T. et al. Assessing volume of accelerometry data for reliability in preschool children. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 44, 2436–2441 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Cutt, H. E., Giles-Corti, B., Knuiman, M. W. & Pikora, T. J. Physical activity behavior of dog owners: development and reliability of the Dogs and Physical Activity (DAPA) tool. J. Phys. Act. Health 5, S73–S89 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Goodman, A. & Goodman, R. Strengths and difficulties questionnaire as a dimensional measure of child mental health. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 48, 400–403 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    YouthInMind. Scoring the SDQ. http://www.sdqinfo.org/py/sdqinfo/b3.py?language=Englishqz(Austral) (2016).

  35. 35.

    Poresky, R. H., Hendrix, C., Mosier, J. E. & Samuelson, M. L. Children’s pets and adults’ self-concepts. J. Psychol. 122, 463–469 (1988).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Paul, E. & Serpell, J. Obtaining a new pet dog: effects on middle childhood and their families. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 47, 17–29 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Westgarth, C., Christley, R., Marvin, G. & Perkins, E. I walk my dog because it makes me happy: a qualitative study to understand why dogs motivate walking and improved health. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 14, 936–944 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Bodsworth, W. & Coleman, G. J. Child–companion animal attachment bonds in single and two-parent families. Anthrozoös 14, 216–223 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the children and parents who participated in the PLAYCE study for their time and commitment. We also acknowledge that this study, in part, was funded by the the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) Grant no. HAB17-017, and the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation (Healthway) who supported the original PLAYCE study. H.E.C. is supported by an Australian National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship (#100794). E.J.W. is supported by an Australian Research Training Program Scholarship. The funding bodies had no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, and interpretation of data or in writing the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

H.E.C. designed the study and oversaw acquisition of the data. E.J.W., L.L., and H.E.C. analyzed the data. E.J.W. and H.E.C. drafted the article. All authors interpreted the data and provided feedback on drafts of the paper, approved the submitted version, and have agreed both to be personally accountable for their own contributions and to ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and the resolution documented in the literature.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hayley E. Christian.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Patient consent

Written informed consent was obtained from all participants in the PLAYCE Study. Consent conformed with the University of Western Australia Human Research Ethics Committee approval (RA/4/7417) for this project and the Australian Government’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct of Human Research 2007 (updated 2018).

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Patient consent Written informed consent was obtained from all participants in the PLAYCE Study. Consent conformed with the University of Western Australia Human Research Ethics Committee approval (RA/4/7417) for this project and the Australian Government’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct of Human Research 2007 (Updated 2018).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wenden, E.J., Lester, L., Zubrick, S.R. et al. The relationship between dog ownership, dog play, family dog walking, and pre-schooler social–emotional development: findings from the PLAYCE observational study. Pediatr Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-020-1007-2

Download citation