As we ease into the year of the dog, I thought it would be nice to explore the ways that having a dog (or a cat, rabbit,fish or snake) has a positive impact on children.

Kids are often super eager to get their first pet, while parents are a bit more hesitant. As most of us know, a lot of time, money, and patience goes into finding a suitable animal companion for ourselves and our families. Pets require constant care, which can be especially challenging living overseas. Pets need the right vaccinations and travel documents, just like humans. However, research continues to show that raising an animal has several benefits for childhood development.

First, children who grow up around pets seem to have a health advantage. Early exposure to the bacteria in animal saliva and fur may decrease the risk of developing certain allergies and even asthma. Children with pets are also more physically active in general, which lowers their risk of obesity and cardiovascular disorders. Second, having a pet encourages empathy and nurturing skills, especially in boys who might shy away from taking care of younger siblings. Pets provide a neutral and non-judgemental source of comfort when emotions seem to be out of control.

Third, kids with pets appear to have higher self-esteem and verbal skills. Pets provide a common subject area to discuss with peers and taking care of a pet can lead to a sense of well-being. Confidence is often linked to increased responsibility. We have all seen young children chatter away to animals, even before they are speaking fluently! Several studies have also shown that kids who read to their pets perform better in school. Fourth, having a pet can strengthen family bonds. When everyone takes a role – feeding, walking, bathing, training – the pet becomes a member of the family and a shared source of love.

If you are ready to take the plunge, Animal Rescue and Care (ARC) is a local non-profit organisation that rehomes cats and dogs. All of their animals are cared for and properly vaccinated and neutered. They organise a daily dog walk each morning, and you are welcome to join to see if there is a particular dog you or your children make a connection to. You can also choose to foster a dog or cat before making the adoption permanent.

When choosing an animal for your family, consider your lifestyle and the age of your children. Some animals have endless patience, some have boundless energy, and some can be quite protective. While many animals thrive with training, you will probably have to do some training with the kids too so they can learn how to treat the newest member of the family.   

Shannon Brown works in international education in Ho Chi Minh City and has a background in social work, public heath, and early childhood education.