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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.