Long before people began to consider dogs members of the family, many kids were wishing that instead of brothers and sisters, they could just have more dogs. Dogs (and other pets) fulfill all of the roles that researchers consider important in an attachment figure. Kids find them enjoyable, comforting, they miss them when they are not around and they seek them out when they are upset. That may make them especially important for adolescents, who are learning to rely less on their parents and more on relationships with other individuals. The non-judgmental feeling people experience with their dogs may contribute to enhancing young people’s self-esteem.
We know that pets are important to kids, but scientific studies quantifying the value of their relationships are sparse. The recent study “One of the family? Measuring young adolescents' relationships with pets and siblings” demonstrates the true value that kids place on their pets. The research involved surveys of 77 people who were 12 years old. It made some interesting, if hardly surprising conclusions:
- Kids with pet dogs had the highest level of satisfaction and received more companionship from their pets compared with kids who had other types of animals.
- Kids were more satisfied with their pets and had less conflict with them compared to the relationships they had with their brothers and sisters.
- Girls reported more willingness to share secrets with their pets and felt a closer companionship with them compared to what boys reported, but they also reported more conflict with their pets than boys did.
- Both boys and girls had more conflict with their siblings than with their pets.
If many adults consider their relationships with dogs to be like those they share with children, it’s no wonder that many kids relate to their dogs much like they relate to their brothers and sisters—only better!