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Did You Know Your Family Dog Is In Synch With Your Kids?

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC 

The emotional development of people and pets can have a large impact on your mental health. Dogs “orient and move in synchrony with family members” and this can have implications on family dynamic and growth.  

Emotional Bonding

According to a new study, family dogs have a way of matching their movements and body language to those of the children they live with. They also tend to stay close and “orient themselves in the same direction as kids.” This form of emotional and social engagement could affect interpersonal development for both the dog and young ones, as well as the safety and interactions between the two. These social connections are shaped and strengthened by shared activity as the kids and dogs both learn how to communicate through body language and read one another. These family pets encourage children to engage with movement more and also serve as a form of emotional support.  

Moving in Tandem 

Moving in tandem seems to generate intangible intimate bonds and afterward, people express greater closeness and cohesion. Research shows that “couples tend to unconsciously synchronize their walking pace to a much greater extent than strangers do and that men speed up when walking with other men, even if the new pace is not physiologically comfortable for them.” When people or animals move together, it seems to build a sense of familiarity, even if it didn’t exist beforehand.  

Staying Close 

60% of the time, dogs try to stay close to their young owners making a conscious effort to stay in tune with one another. Children tend to take on more of a role in training pets than we typically give them credit for. Dogs are socially responsive to the behavior of their owners and the bonding and interwoven movements of people and pets are continually being studied. This phenomenon can be particularly useful in building a sense of autonomy within the child. When it comes to the animal, it can help instill habits for service or therapy dogs. 

Benefits of Family Pets

Family pets are most commonly valued for their companionship, security, pleasure, and affection. Pets can serve as attachment figures and they “respond eagerly to care and attention, offering unconditional love and non-threatening physical contact in holding and petting – crucial human needs” (Walsh, 2009). These bonds and attachments provide humans with psychological and social support. Over three-fourths of children in the United States live with pets, which sadly enough is more than those living with both parents. Additionally, studies have shown that children with pets in the house are typically more empathetic than those without. They have a way of bringing out the best in kids when it comes to responsibility, kindness, affection, first-aid, and general concern for other living things. 

Pets and Resilience Building

Although family pets are valued at all different times, reportedly some of the most important times are those of crisis, loss, prolonged adversity, and disruptive transitions. Animals provide socioemotional support that facilitates coping, resilience, and recovery. Studies show that pets provide this needed sense of support to assist with adaptations or tumultuous life changes. 82% of families acquired a pet during times of experiencing a move, death, or separation. 

If you haven’t been convinced by how a pet can benefit and become a healthy part of your family dynamic yet, check the research. Emotional bonding, movement, companionship, security, and resilience-building are skills that will be needed at different times throughout life, and investing yourself emotionally into a pet can teach you some valuable lessons.  

Resources:  

Walsh, F. (2009). Human animal bongs II: The role of pets in family systems and family therapy. Family Process. Retrieved from: kenrodogtraining.com

Reynolds, G. (2021). The family dog is in synch with your kids. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/17/well/move/dogs-kids-family.html?referringSource=articleShare

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