Science documents what we already knew: Dogs are good for kids

Hersch Wilson
4 min readJun 13, 2024
Best day ever!

One definition of science is the victory of evidence over intuition. Ten thousand years ago, stripped of science, all of us would’ve no doubt “intuited” that the sun revolved around the earth, which, as any Homo Sapien of the time would tell you, was flat.
So, it’s fun when the roles are reversed, and science catches up to what we all know intuitively.
Let me set the stage. I was twelve years old with a two-year-old German Shepherd. On summer mornings, released from the rigid social structure of junior high school, Shawnee and I would perch on the high bluffs overlooking the Minnesota River. Then we’d plunge into the river woodlands, where we’d spend hours exploring, running, digging, and tossing sticks into the river.
Pediatric researchers call this “unstructured physical activity,” which, as any kid will tell you, is much more fun than the adult-directed kind.
Returning home tired and hungry, Shawnee would nap on the front porch, and I would bug my mom for lunch.
It seemed that everyone took for granted that the kid-dog relationship was valuable or, as my mom would remind my dad, kept me out of the house. (a true benefit for a mom of six)
Now, researchers in Australia have confirmed what we know. In a paper titled, “Longitudinal effects of dog ownership, dog acquisition, and dog loss on children’s movement behaviours by Emma K. Adams et al.,” they studied the effect of having a dog (or losing a dog) on the amount of “unstructured physical activity” on groups of kids. Their research suggests a causal relationship between having a dog in a child’s life and boosting their physical activity. In a lovely turn of phrase, they call this “dog-facilitated activity.”
These activities include the gold standard, walking with a dog, and a group of play activities: chasing, racing, and playing “fetch.”
The researchers found that “girls who acquired a dog increased their light intensity activities and games by 52.0 min/day compared to no change among non-dog owners. Girls and boys who acquired a dog increased their unstructured physical activity by 6.8 and 7.1 occasions per week, compared to no changes among non-dog owners.”
I’m not negating that sometimes kids need to be reminded to “walk the dog,” and it feels like a chore. Yet, even if you must bribe them to do it, it’s an overall plus.
Why? There are two reasons; again, there are things we know that science is confirming. First, physical activity, even the “light intensity activity,” is linked to better physical and emotional health (for kids and dogs!) and better academic performance (not for dogs). Instead of screen time, physical activity is a no-brainer better use of time.
Second, when a child plays and walks with a dog, they bond. Dogs (well, most, there are always exceptions to the rule) love to walk and play. They look forward to it. There are zoomies in the living room when someone picks up a leash. If a child spends time regularly playing and walking with a dog, they will become inseparable.
Thus, the story’s moral is that for our children (and grandchildren), a dog has concrete and measurable benefits. Kids! If you want a dog and are reading this, please use this article to bolster your argument!
Here are a couple of caveats. First, adopting a dog is a serious undertaking. It is not just bringing a dog home from the shelter (Adopt, don’t buy!), buying a leash, a bowl, and dog food, and thinking that’s it. Make sure you have the commitment, time, resources, and energy (and love) to carry on a relationship of multiple years. Next, before you assign the responsibility of walking the dog to a child, ensure they can physically restrain the dog on a leash. When I was ten, I was given the duty of taking Shawnee to obedience school. I couldn’t control her, and we both “flunked.” The thought I’d add to the Australian research is to ensure that your child is ready in age and strength. (Don’t assume that a ten-year-old is any match for an enthusiastic German Shepherd)
Finally, since this is about kids and dogs, remember to never leave a young child alone and unsupervised with a dog. Young kids can pull ears and tails; sometimes, a dog will react badly. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Hersch Wilson’s book, “Dog Lessons: Learning the Important Stuff from Our Best Friends” is available at bookstores everywhere (And Collected Works in Santa Fe!) and online.



Hersch Wilson

Writer. Retired Firefighter. Dog Lover. Buddhist Beginner.