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The dog's role in child development & education
A dog not only encourages more social interaction within a family but also plays a vital role in the education of the children. Research studies show that pet ownership can aid the development of a child’s social and emotional skills by enhancing perception and intuition and improving the ability to learn. A child that is allowed to help care for a pet will acquire nurturing skills and, when praised for performing a task well, will build up self esteem. When children are brought up with companion animals, they have a greater awareness and sense of nature and the understanding of welfare learned from their own pets will extend to all animals.
Life experiences learned from the dog
Everyone loves puppies and children are no exception. Puppies and children tend to recognise each other as playmates but youthful exuberance from both parties can lead to problems therefore they should be supervised when together at all times. Good puppy classes always recommend that children should attend. It is a fun learning experience for the child and puppies will benefit from socialising with different children of all ages and personalities in a controlled environment.
Children can gain a basic sex education from dogs. Even if they do not witness canine procreation, they will learn about body parts and their function without causing the parent too much embarrassment in the process.
Often a child’s first experience of bereavement is through the death of a pet and when this event is handled with sensitivity by the adults concerned, it will provide a balanced approach to coping with the death of relatives and friends that may occur in the future. However it is most important that the child is allowed to work through the grieving process (see CHILDREN AND BEREAVEMENT).
The dog as a child’s support and confidant
A family dog provides unconditional love particularly when a child is upset, in disfavour with the parents or having problems at school. A dog acts as an attractive verbal stimulus and is a willing and patient listener. A child can rely on a canine friend to be the confidant of secrets but while a dog’s affection can help to maintain a child’s self esteem, it should only be considered a part of the support network.
Dogs in schools
A research carried out in Austria found that the presence of a dog in a primary classroom caused disruptive children to become less boisterous and attention seeking and, as a result, were more able to concentrate on their lesson. Many pets including dogs have been introduced into schools for children with autism and learning difficulties. They have proved to be of enormous psychological benefit as well as instigating a more empathetic attitude towards other people’s needs.
Dogs in hospitals
Hospitals are unpleasant places for most people but for children they can be very scary indeed. It has been shown that dogs can exert a calming influence and sometimes have been used as a welcome distraction when a child has had to undergo treatment.
The responsibility of the parents and other adults
Naturally the amount of benefit to children derived from owning a dog is dependent upon the responsibility of the parent. No child should be asked to perform a task that is beyond the capability of its years and young children should be supervised when in the presence of a dog at all times. Small children do not readily understand how to behave in a dog’s presence and will not always recognise the way in which dog’s communicate. According to an Australian study, most dog bite incidents involve the family pet and often it is not the dog that is to blame.
Fear of dogs can result from a child’s own bad experience or can be learned through a parent’s fear of dogs. Fear, deferred anger or the imitation of adults can lead to abuse of animals and it is the responsibility of those in working in veterinary practice and animal welfare organisations to educate families in responsible pet ownership.
The Blue Cross education programme
The Blue Cross run a wonderful education programme that is not part of a fundraising initiative but is solely for the information, education and investment for the future of animal welfare. Volunteers who have been highly trained and are practised in speaking to children between the ages 5 – 12 are invited to visit nurseries, primary schools and youth groups to spread the message of the Blue Cross. Volunteers may be asked to bring their dogs, all of which have been temperament tested for the job. The topics raised are: pet care and welfare, staying safe around pets – particularly dogs, the history of the Blue Cross and its work as a pet charity. For further information, see our listing below.
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