The Health and Developmental Benefits of Companion Animals for Young Children: Advancing the Evidence Base | HABRI

The Health and Developmental Benefits of Companion Animals for Young Children: Advancing the Evidence Base

Principal Investigator

Hayley Christian

Rationale

There is emerging evidence that dog ownership is associated with increased levels of physical activity in children, thus it is plausible that dog ownership may provide other health and development benefits for children. Dog-facilitated play and activity increases the amount of time children spend interacting and bonding with their dog and may be an important mechanism for facilitating developmental benefits such as improved self-esteem, self-regulation, empathy, autonomy, reduced stress levels and increased attachment to their dog. A key evidence gap exists around the effect of increased interaction with companion animals via pet-facilitated play and activity and its impact on both health and developmental outcomes in young children.

Hypothesis

  1. To investigate if active play and walking with the family dog facilitates improved developmental outcomes in young children. We hypothesize that active play and walking with the family dog is associated with improved development in young children.
  2. To pilot test companion animal-based interventions for improving children’s health and developmental outcomes. We hypothesize that strategies to increase children’s active play and walking with the family dog will improve children’s health and development.

Design

This study will investigate if active play and walking with the family dog facilitates improved health and developmental outcomes in young children (2-5 years) using data from the Western Australian ‘Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity’ (PLAYCE) Study.

Data on 2,400 children aged 2-5 years collected as part of the Western Australian ‘Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity’ (PLAYCE) Study will be analyzed to determine the relationship between child development and, family dog ownership, dog-facilitated activity and physical activity. We expect to find a positive relationship between dog-facilitated activity and child development. We will also invite 100 dog owning families to help trial simple strategies (mobile phone message prompts) to increase the amount of time children spend playing with their dog in the yard and the number of family dog walks.

Expected Results

We expect that these strategies will increase the amount of time children spend interacting and active with their family dog and this will lead to improved physical activity and developmental outcomes. Findings from this study will contribute to knowledge and best-practice by providing evidence on the mechanisms through which companion animals can facilitate opportunities for physical activity and thereby improve children’s health and development. This will inform future cost-effective and innovative companion animal interventions to increase the health benefits of the Human-Animal Bond for families.

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