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Children with pet dogs have less anxiety: study

Having a dog in the home can improve children's anxiety levels, according to new research.
Having a dog in the home can improve children's anxiety levels, according to new research. (Jodi/Jodi- FILE)

If your children keep begging you for a puppy, you might want to give it a thought — having a pooch in the home may help your children’s mental health.

A U.S. study suggests that children who have pet dogs are less likely to have anxiety.

Researchers looked at the health data of 643 children and found that 12 per cent of children with pet dogs in the home showed signs of clinical anxiety, compared with 21 per cent of children without a pet dog.

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“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Diana Segboer, PALS executive director. “People talk of the calming signals they give you. Dogs do know, and cats know… when you’re having a bad day.”

PALS (Pet Access League Society) is a non-profit charitable organization that provides pet therapy in hospitals, schools, libraries and even correctional facilities.

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“Wherever we are asked to go, we go, because we understand that animals have an incredible impact to lower anxiety levels,” said Segboer.

WATCH: Moxie the pet therapy dog comforts children at Sick Kids Hospital

The companionship of dogs has been shown to promote self esteem, relieve stress, provide emotional support, improve relationship development and stimulate communication, according to the U.S. Public Health Service.

They’re just there providing support,” said Segboer. “They’re there as a sounding board, and kids get that. Especially on the level of a child. They just want somebody to listen” without judgement or feedback.

The study used questions about children being shy, often worrying, and being frightened for no reason among the determining factors.

READ MORE: Therapy dogs helping university students release stress before exams

Segboer said the security of having a trusty companion can spill over to all areas of a child’s life.

“They feel what we’re feeling,” said Segboer. “They sense things that we don’t even truly understand. But they know what’s going on in our world and they try to make it better.”

The U.S. Public Health Service promotes pet ownership as a way to improve physical and mental health in adults, however there is not yet such a recommendation for children.

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“Having a pet dog in the home was associated with a decreased probability of childhood anxiety,” the study states. “Future studies need to establish whether this relationship is causal and, if so, how pet dogs alleviate childhood anxiety.”

The research was recently published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

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