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Having Pet Dogs Could Help Your Children Feel Less Stressed

May 11, 2017 10:20 AM EDT
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This new robot dog from Boston Dynamics is creepily lifelike

A new study by the researchers from the University of Florida revealed that pet dogs could serve as social support for children, lessening the kids' stress.

The study, published in the journal Social Development, showed that the presence of a pet dog when a child is undergoing stressful experience could how much the child feel stressed out.

"Many people think pet dogs are great for kids but scientists aren't sure if that's true or how it happens," said Darlene Kertes, an assistant professor in the psychology department of UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in a press release. "Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lower how much children feel stressed out,"

For the study, the researchers recruited 100 pet-owning families with a child between 7 and 12 years old. The researchers stressed out the children by making them complete a public speaking task and mental arithmetic task. The children were randomly assigned into three groups. The first group experienced the stressor with the presence of their dog as social support. The second group has their parents fill the role of social support, while the last group has no social support at all.

The researchers observed that children in the first group reported feeling less stress compared to the children in both the second and third groups. Interestingly, the nature of interaction between the children and their dogs has some sort of influence in their cortisol level, which is the biological marker of the body's stress response.

To take the cortisol levels of the children, the researchers collected samples of the children's saliva.

Children who actively solicited their dog's attention to be stroked had lower levels of cortisol compared to children who did not engage with their dogs. Surprisingly, the children's cortisol level tends to be higher when their pet dog hovers around the children and approached them on their own.

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