Can dogs boost kids’ mental health?

Can dogs boost kids’ mental health?

Yes dogs boost kids’ mental health!

Think of that wagging tail, the cheerful eyes, doesn’t it give you a warm feeling? Well dogs boost kids’ mental health too!

At PKS we’re really aware of the importance of children’s mental health – ways to improve their mental health have been very much a topic of conversation during and following the Covid lockdowns.

Children’s mental health has suffered as a result of isolations and not having peers and schoolteachers around to talk to, and parents have suffered too! At school children have their friends around and teachers can observe how they are doing, it’s just not the same online!

We’re not suggesting that dogs can replace people but that unconditional love and reassurance they can give can really benefit children’s mental health.

We are a pet loving nation and many people have turned to pets over the lockdown as companions. Record numbers have been buying dogs – a trend fed by the ‘work from home’ advice which has meant that people who would normally have been travelling to the office have had much more time at home to exercise dogs.

You only have to look at the number of dogs on the school run to see how many families have acquired dogs over the past year! The poodle cross dogs are definitely taking over!

Dogs can be faithful companions, they can encourage people to exercise more and get  out and about in the fresh air. Dogs are man’s oldest companion and they have been depicted as man’s best friend for centuries in art and historical sources.

You’re probably aware that a dog can make you feel better – that loving expression, those big eyes, that wagging tail at the sight of you – but lots of people don’t realise that dogs boost kids’ mental health – as well as the mental health of adults!

So how can a dog improve your child’s mental health?

Dogs bring a routine to the days.

A dog can introduce routine into a child’s life. Kids generally thrive on routine, especially infant and primary aged children. Dogs expect you to get up at a certain time, they want their meals, walks, games – they like to learn the pattern of your days and they know what happens when.

If your child lacks structure in their day then a dog can bring that. Routine can give a child a sense of calm, they know what to expect and this can really help an anxious child or a child who is feeling depressed.

Routine can also help children who are feeling anxious to have a sense of control, which can reduce anxiety. Unfortunately the Covid situation can leave a child feeling that everything can be taken away from them, all the things they consider normal, like school, friends and seeing family.

If you have a dog though they still need the same routine – in fact they demand it! This can be very comforting for a child!

Dogs encourage children to exercise

During the lockdowns, many children were stuck inside and weren’t able to exercise as they normally would. Children who would normally be playing sports, swimming or running about with friends suddenly had all of this taken away.

Dogs are really great at getting kids out because they need regular walks! Even playing in the garden with a dog can be lots of fun and give a child plenty of exercise without them even realising they are working hard!

Dogs get the whole family out and about on walks and they might even tempt you and your family to go and walk in places you wouldn’t usually go – fields, woods, the seaside perhaps. With a dog beside you, you and your children have purpose and focus and you can enjoy taking in the surroundings and absorbing nature!

Dogs can help if your child is anxious

Dogs are generally very loving and huggable! If your child suffers anxiety attacks or panics, stroking a dog can really help to calm them and provide a reassuring presence. Some schools even have a resident dog to help anxious children feel more comfortable and more focussed. 

Dogs love a hug and having a lovely hairy bundle of wriggles to hug is really brilliant for kids! A dog can become a new best friend for a lonely child – and a dog won’t let them down! By just being around to be a friend dogs boost kids’ mental health!

A dog can help improve a child’s self esteem and confidence, and can really make kids feel happier!

Looking after a dog can benefit a child’s mental heath too

Looking after an animal is a responsibility – and responsibility, rather than being a burden, can be something that improves self esteem and confidence!

When a child knows that a dog is relying on them for exercise, food and companionship, it can help change a child’s focus in a positive way. They know that the dog is depending on them for care and attention, and this can give kids a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. They have a job to do and they can do it well – and get a wagging tail and lots of licks as a thank you!

Having to interact with a dog also encourages a child to develop empathy and compassion – qualities that are very useful in everyday life!

A dog can be a great way of meeting new friends!

Dogs can help a child to make friends.

In particular, shy or introverted children can sometimes find it hard to make new friends.  A dog can be a good conversation starter, an ice breaker so your child can meet new people and expand their social circle.  Once you have a dog you tend to see more people out and about and make doggie friends too!

Dogs can be brilliant if you have an autistic child or a child with any other special need.

The right dog can help an autistic child by offering companionship and a new friend. Communication with a dog is often unspoken, they respond to moods and facial expressions as well as tone of voice – so they can tell when your child is feeling upset or happy, down or excited!

This ability to sense feelings can mean that a dog will develop a very close bond with you and your child.

Autistic children often get anxious about things and sometimes find it hard to interact with people and other children. A dog accepts everyone as they are and doesn’t have preconceived ideas about people. It will sense if your child feels anxious and will often try to comfort them. Dogs can be very intuitive and seem to understand how people feel, including children.

So we know that dogs boost kids’ mental health. But….

Which type of dog is right for your child?

If you’re considering buying or adopting a dog as a family pet, it’s very important to seriously consider which breed of dog will be right for you and your child.

Dogs are almost like children – they need regular exercise, food, shelter, water and companionship. It’s best not to get a dog if you can’t offer all of these – no dog likes to be left for hours in an empty house everyday. 

Factors to consider might be:

How much space you have – do you live in a flat? A large house with a garden? Is your garden fenced in? 

Small dogs are often escape artists so you’ll need a secure space if they are going to be running about in the garden. Bigger dogs often need more space – so either lots of walks, a big garden or both!

How much time you have for a dog – for walks, and to be around to give the dog company?

Dogs thrive on human companionship – and depending on the breed will possibly need plenty of walks. It’s a good idea to consider how much time you have to exercise a dog and give it your time.

How fit are you? Some dogs require 2-4 hours of exercise a day so it’s important to consider your own level of fitness.

Can you cope with a puppy? Is it better to adopt an older, calmer dog?

Puppies need house training, encouragement and a teacher! They might wake you up at night just like a baby! If you aren’t prepared for a lot of work then don’t get a puppy!

Have you considered the cost of long term insurance and food? This can really build over the years. It’s definitely worth thoroughly researching it! Even if you do have insurance, often you have to pay upfront for the vet’s bill while the claim is being considered by an insurance company so you need to have available funds to do this.

In any case it’s rare that insurance will cover the entire cost of any claim so you’ll still have to pay out at least some of it.

Does the breed you are considering need a lot of training? Are you prepared for this? Some breeds need more training than others, if you get a working breed then they’ll need lots of training or they’ll develop boredom behaviours.

Do you have a car with space for the dog? If you’re considering driving to places with the dog then this is definitely something to think about.

Do you like to go on a lot of days out and holidays?

This is worth carefully thinking about – if you like to go on a lot of long days out with the kids where taking a dog wouldn’t be possible then you might want to think again about getting a dog.

Have you thought about the type of dog you and your children might want?

Some dogs look great but have personality traits that might not suit your situation.  For example if you have an anxious child, a very excitable dog might not be the best choice! A dog that’s likely to  bark a lot might not suit you if you like peace and quiet!

If you’ve considered all of these things, it might be worth borrowing a friend’s dog for a day – it will give you an idea of managing a dog although only a tiny snapshot of the full picture!

Have you thought about getting a rescue dog?

If you’ve thought carefully about all the pros and cons then don’t just assume you should buy a puppy. Many dog rescue centres have fantastic young and older dogs who are just waiting for a new family to adopt them.  They’ll be able to give good advice on the breed and personality of dog that might suit your family and you will get the chance to meet the dog and play with it to help you decide if it’s the right one for you.

Rescue centres will often give you continuing advice and help with any difficulties.

f you are considering getting a dog, think carefully – dogs boost kids’ mental health but they are a great responsibility too!

At PKS we’ve been thinking about how to help boost kids’ mental health with our products too! Coming soon to our website – and currently available from our shop on Etsy – will be Wooden Emotion Cards which can help your child to communicate how they are feeling. Children often struggle to find the words to tell you how they feel and our Wooden Emotion Cards are a brilliant way to help!

Don’t forget if you and your children are out for the day with the dog, take your water bottles with the kids’ Personalised Bottle Bands on them so everyone has plenty of water to drink and you know whose bottle is whose! The dog will love a bottle with it’s own bottle band on too so it has enough to drink too!

Have a look in our shop for more PKS products!

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