While dogs’ ability to act as natural stress buffers may seem intuitive to dog owners, it is key to have scientific evidence that this phenomenon is in fact true. This is because scientific evidence can pave the way for legislative and school policies and rulings that can benefit youngsters who depend on their dogs to lower stress levels. This latest study examined children’s responses to stressful situations to determine if their pet dogs helped to mitigate their stress levels. The children were randomly assigned to experience the stressor with their dog present for social support, with their parent present, or with no social support. The results indicate that pet dogs can indeed provide socio-emotional benefits for children via their stress buffering effects.
Overview of study
Pet dogs provide valuable social support for kids when they’re stressed, according to a study by researchers from the University of Florida, who were among the first to document stress-buffering effects of pets for children.
For their study, recently published in the journal Social Development, the researchers recruited approximately 100 pet-owning families, who came to their university laboratory with their dogs. To tap children’s stress, the children completed a public speaking task and mental arithmetic task, which are known to evoke feelings of stress and raise the stress hormone cortisol, and simulates real-life stress in children’s lives. The children were randomly assigned to experience the stressor with their dog present for social support, with their parent present, or with no social support.
“Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out. Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support.”
-Dr. Darlene Kertes, assistant professor, Psychology Department, University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
The present study tested whether pet dogs have stress-buffering effects for children during a validated laboratory-based protocol, the Trier Social Stress Test for Children (TSST-C). Participants were 101 children aged 7–12 years with their primary caregivers and pet dogs. Children were randomly assigned in the TSST-C to a pet present condition or one of two comparison conditions: parent present or no support figure present. Baseline, response, and recovery indices of perceived stress and cortisol levels were computed based on children’s self-reported feelings of stress and salivary cortisol. Results indicated that in the alone (no social support) condition, children showed the expected rise for both perceived stress and cortisol response to stress. Pet dog presence significantly buffered the perceived stress response in comparison to children in the alone and parent present conditions…The results support the notion that pet dogs can provide socio-emotional benefits for children via stress buffering.
Read the entire study here.
Journal reference: Kertes, D., et al. Effect of Pet Dogs on Children’s Perceived Stress and Cortisol Stress Response, Social Development Journal, Volume 26, Issue 2
May 2017, Pages 382–401.