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Relationship Between Children, Dogs Topic of Kent State Study

Families needed for psychology department research project

How children relate to their pet dogs is the topic of a study by researchers in Kent State University's Department of Psychology.

Professor Kathy Kerns is leading the study, in which researchers are trying to determine how a child's relationship to their pet dog relates to their connections with other people and how they adjust as they grow.

Kerns said the study is part of a grant from the National Institute of Health to examine how pet relationships fit in with other kinds of relationships children have.

"So do they provide support?" she said. "Are they particularly important for kids who may be having difficulties in their human relationships? The studies that are out there have sort of looked at pet relationships in isolation, so we don’t really get a picture of how it fits into the whole development of the child."

Kerns said they selected dogs for the study purposefully rather than cats, reptiles or other house pets.

"A lot of the work on pets and kids just asks about pets, and it’s really not clear what kids are talking about,” she said. "We selected dogs purposefully because people so often say ‘You’re dog loves you no matter what.' (There is) this idea that dogs might be a particular pet that would be the kind to provide validation and support."

To participate, families must have one household dog as a pet with a child either in fourth or fifth grade. Interested families can call 330-672-2139 or send an email to akoehn@kent.edu for more information about participating.

The actual information gathered comes from one visit to the family's home to fill out a questionnaire and observe some interaction between the child and dog.

The researchers at Kent State plan to gather data on 100 families. So far, 40 families have taken part.

Kerns, like her two collaborators, has a family dog — a black lab. She suspects they will learn through the study that children with strong relationships with their pet dogs cope with stress better and are more social.

"We also expect to find the kids who say they are close to their dogs reporting things like feeling less lonely, less anxious," she said.

Chris (Kit) Myers January 22, 2013 at 06:23 PM
The next study should be, "Are the parents of kids who have a lot of positive interaction with the family dog more likely to volunteer for the study than the parents of kids who hate and abuse the family dog or the parents of kids who have family dog interactions between those two extremes?" A study with just the positive interaction kids may show positive results with regard to loneliness, anxiety, and stress, (if kids this age are even able to adequately verbalize these feelings) but it does NOT show that these kids are more able to adapt to society than are the dog beaters. Without kids who are willing to sit in front of an interviewer and mom and dad and be completely honest, and say ambivalent or negative things about the dog if that is how they feel, the stated purpose of this research cannot be validated. It is my humble opinion that the research methodology is inadequate for the task at hand. But... all I know about it is what I have read in this little Patch article.
Teresa K. January 22, 2013 at 09:31 PM
chris: lol... i was thinking along the same lines.... how do we determine that a child with a dog at home has less anxiety or stress? does the chld say so? or does the dog? too many possible variables to make any true determination. chris: if all you know about this topic is what you have read in this little Patch article, I'm thinking that makes you an expert.
Kathryn Kerns January 23, 2013 at 03:31 PM
hello, as the investigator for the study, I'll leave a short comment to answer your questions... of course we want a diverse sample, not just those kids who feel very close to their dogs. We cannot force families to participate, this is a volunteer project, but we usually get a broad group of families in our studies. To respond to the second question, we are using several methods to look at children's responses to stress, including observation, and are controlling for some confounding variables.

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