5 Amazing (but true) Things About Dogparents

Encouraging kids to grow up to be well-rounded individuals is something that every parent or caregiver tries to achieve.  We already know that having a pet in the home makes for a memorable childhood, but we perhaps fail to appreciate the more profound effects that pet ownership has upon child development. It is typical to ask friends to become godparents and be involved in our children’s lives, but what about the role of dogparents that our pets perform, sometimes without us even realizing. Aspects such as physical and social development, to name just a couple, are enhanced if a child helps to nurture a pet at home.

Benefits of pet ownership for children

Physical development

Dog walking is a great form of exercise and an easy way to burn calories. In a world where our kids live more sedentary lives and are more prone to obesity than previous generations, going for a daily walk or run with the dog is a great habit to form. Fantastic for the child’s physical and mental health, it is a habit that can be continued into adulthood.

boy-running-with-dog

Social development

Encouraging a child to be respectful and caring of a pet, also transitions into his or her treatment of other people. There are obviously exceptions, but for the most part, children who have been shown how to behave with pets and have looked after a pet have a tendency to become more caring, more compassionate and more responsible adults. Emotional intelligence, interpersonal interaction, and impulse control are vital attributes to have. Acquiring and further developing these strengths can be facilitated by pet ownership. It is very important to note that simply having a pet in the home is not sufficient for these skills to be acquired. It is vital that kids are shown the best ways in which to interact with and treat other living creatures and they often learn these skills from examples set by parents or caregivers. Kids with dogs have plenty of opportunities to learn patience, kindness, sharing, and generosity; all character traits that can help them to develop closer human friendships. In providing care for an animal they also start to develop some basic parenting skills useful for later in life.

Cognitive development

Cognitive development is the way in which information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory all develop through childhood into adulthood. As we know, not all learning takes place in a classroom. Having a pet in the family can help with all aspects of cognitive development.  Encouraging a child to read about his own dog’s breed, to be involved in puppy care and the training of the dog, and to be involved in learning how to care for the dog are all valuable ways of learning. Reading skills and confidence improve when a child reads to a pet, and some school districts are introducing READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) programs with these benefits in mind.

child-reading-to-a-dog

Emotional development

Caring for a dog allows a child to interact with a live being without being judged. This enables self-esteem to build and can help a shy kid overcome timidity.  Dogs also make superb service helpers for children living with physical or behavioral health conditions.

Interacting with dogs also releases endorphins in a child’s body, making the child happier, more relaxed, and less anxious. Additionally, as dogs have a relatively short life cycle, children learn about life and death and how to work through the bereavement and grief process.

girl-whispering-to-dog

Immune system development

In a 2015 study published in JAMA Pediatrics1, Swedish scientists analyzed the relationship between dog ownership in the first year of a child’s life and the incidence of asthma in children up to the age of six. They found that children in Sweden who have grown up with dogs in the house since birth had a 15% decreased risk of asthma by the time they attended school compared with children whose families did not have a dog. The researchers believe the findings would also be applicable to other developed countries such as the US.

How do you increase kid-dog interaction?

Get the kids involved! There are lots of little tasks involved in pet care and if your children are involved in some of them it can make them feel important and responsible.  For young children, setting up a chart with small rewards for tasks completed can be a good way to start – there are even apps for that these days! Carrying out simple age-appropriate duties like filling the dog bowl with fresh water or measuring out kibble can make children feel more grown up, trusted and helpful.

girl-feeding-dog

Give your dog extra praise and attention, for being a terrific dogparent, helping you in your quest to raise your kid to be a balanced, content adult.

Why not share how having a pet has enhanced your child’s development?

Reference

  1. Fall T, Lundholm C, Örtqvist AK, et al. Early exposure to dogs and farm animals and the risk of childhood asthma. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169:e153219. doi:1001/jamapediatrics. 2015.3219. Epub 2015 Nov.
Advertisements

Why Getting Active With Your Dog Will Change Your Life

If you and your pet have been active all year, there should be no reason to become sloth-like during the winter.  Admittedly, it can be tempting to hunker down inside when temperatures plummet, but getting active and staying active with your dog will actually change your life. No exaggeration.

With a bit of creativity and planning, it’s possible to enjoy every season with your pet and get more benefits than you might realize at the same time. Here are a few activity suggestions that could help keep you both healthier during the colder months.

Skijoring

Skijoring is a unique combination of cross-country skiing combined with dog power.  This sport began hundreds of years ago in Norway and was called skikjøring (or ski driving). Horses and reindeer were used in Norway, but when the concept spread to Alaska, dogs were used instead.  The dog wears a skijoring harness and is attached to the skier with a belt and a towline.  This sport only works well with larger dogs, but you don’t need to own a Husky. Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, or Border Collies, for example, can all enjoy the sport. If your dog weighs at least 35 lbs, is healthy, and has a lot of energy and stamina, it could be a good option. Both owner and dog get a fantastic workout (with owners able to burn between 700 and 900 calories per hour) and take advantage of the snowy conditions at the same time.  If this sounds like the sport for you, it is advisable to get a health check for you and your dog. If you’re both good to go, start out slowly, building up the length of sessions as you get more familiar with the activity. Look online for Skijor clubs in your local area, which could offer some group sessions and may give you tips specific to your location. SkijorUSA might be a good place to start. Some states that typically get winter snow have designated trail areas, so check out what might be available in your state.

skijoring

Snowshoeing

This is becoming increasingly popular in the snowier regions of the country as you can burn between 420 – 1,000 calories in an hour depending on speed. Some dog owners like to carry poles, so prefer to snowshoe with their dog on a waist leash.  This activity offers cardio training, strength building, agility, and balance – a serious workout for owner and dog.

Become a mushing team

When we think of mushing, we often think of a sled pulled by multiple dogs, but actually, the term refers to any form of transport that is powered by dogs. Traditional mushing with a sled in the snow is extremely popular in Alaska but is also growing in popularity in the lower 48. Dog mushing has become a popular activity for those wanting to explore the backcountry. There is quite a bit of equipment and training required for this version. If you find the thought of traditional mushing a bit daunting, there are other options, although most of these are better suited to conditions without ice or snow.  There is a wide range of products on the market, so why not check out the different options and see if there is something that appeals to you.

Hiking

Hiking is a very popular activity and shouldn’t be reserved for the warmer months. When there is snow on the ground, it certainly adds to the intensity of a hike.  This activity can be achieved without needing to purchase or rent additional equipment, but do take plenty of water, snacks and a first aid kit with you. Ensure that both you and your dog are adequately protected against the elements with appropriate clothing and footwear. With any outdoor activity during the winter, make sure your pet’s paws are washed clean of salt after being outside.  If you are likely to be going out into harsh weather conditions regularly, you may want to consider investing in hiking boots for your dog, to protect paws from injury.  Not all dogs will wear them so paw wax may be a good alternative to protect the paws from ice and snow.

man-walking-his-dog-on-a-path-in-the-snow

Practice nose work

Not everyone wants to or is able to participate in intense forms of exercise with their pet, but in addition to regular walking, there are other more moderate activities that you can introduce during the winter months.  Practicing nose work is a fun search activity for your dog,  based on the scent training that police and rescue dogs undergo.  This activity provides great physical exercise but is fantastic for mental stimulation too.  Dogs learn to search for a specific odor and find the source of that odor. The nice thing is that it can be done almost anywhere. The wind, rain, and snow can affect scent flow, so practicing in the winter can be a different experience from other seasons.  If you would like to develop your skills,  K9 Nose Work can help you find an instructor in your area.

Make an indoor agility course

If the weather is just too severe to venture outside, you can set up an agility course in your own living room. It is possible to purchase objects like tunnels, hoops, and hurdles for your pet, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to those, simply look around your home and everyday objects can achieve a similar result. Set up obstacles with items like brooms or rolled up blankets and encourage your pet to jump over these obstacles. You may have to jump too initially but aim to progress to verbal cues. Put items like newspaper or aluminum foil on the ground, so your dog gets used to different textures and sounds under his paws. Add a collapsed tunnel adventure by using a chair draped in a blanket – sit one side and encourage your pet to go through.

living-room-agility-course

Go to an indoor dog park

Designed for year-round use, but particularly helpful in extremes of weather, indoor dog parks are a great option.  Many indoor dog parks have opened throughout the United States, so check online to find one in your area.  At some, you can sign up for an agility class, a swimming lesson, or even have a go at doga (yep,  yoga with your dog!).

indoor-dog-park-dallas

How can these activities change your life?

The benefits of getting active with your dog are many, but the following are just a selection of ways in which your life will be changed for the better by exercising with your pet during the winter months:

  • Any activity or exercise during the winter (whether inside or out) is great for improving cardiovascular health and overall muscle tone for you and your dog.
  • Exercise has been proven to be helpful in improving mental health, as endorphins released during exercise reduce depression and anxiety.
  • Being exposed to as much natural sunlight as possible helps in overcoming SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that can affect many people during the winter months.
  • Although you are never truly lonely with a dog in your life, engaging in activities that promote greater social interaction (such as going to an indoor dog park or signing up for a class) can be so helpful for anyone struggling with isolation and loneliness at this time of year – again improving mental health.
  • Embarking on any activity allows you to develop stronger, closer bonds with your pet, which is good for the soul in general.  

With countless benefits, whatever you do this winter, pick an activity that you and your pet can enjoy and will do regularly.  Get active and maximize your time with your best friend!

What do you and your pet love to do at this time of year? We’d love to hear about it!

Doggy activities: The Dog Park

In the series of things you can do with your dog to keep him happy and active I have so far tackled taking your pooch to the beach and advised you to make a (small) change in your walking route. Today I will be talking about taking your beloved four-legged friend to a place a lot of you will be familiar with already. However, for those of you who are unfamiliar with them or who have some doubts, let me introduce you to… the dog park.

Dog park this way
Dog park this way

Off-leash dog parks are a wonderful place where you can let your pooch off-leash and run around and play with his friends. Because in most states and counties, dogs have to be leashed during their walks, they can be hindered in socializing with their fellows. In their hearts, dogs are still animals that roam, but we keep them in our houses and backyard, thus limiting their space. In the dog park they can be more true to their nature, lose some of their pent-up energy and, most importantly, have fun! And frankly, you can do the same as dog parks are a great place to meet new friends, human or canine.

Making friends and having fun
Making friends and having fun

I my post has convinced you to try out the dog park, please keep the following in mind. These parks are a great benefit for every dog and dog owner. However, in order to keep everyone happy and to keep these lovely places open, it is important that you follow the rules. Some parks have restriction on how many dogs can be inside at the same time. In others there are separate areas according to the dog’s size. And in some of these dog parks children are not allowed in. However, all of these parks have one rule in common, the one rule that all visitors must adhere to: cleaning up the dog’s waste. Following these rules will make the city happy and keep the park open, which makes your dogs happy, which will make you happy. So why not give it a try?