No offense to my siblings, but growing up, I was much more likely to confide my secrets in my dog than in them. Inky always listened, didn't judge and would gladly lie by my side for hours, rarely lured away by better offers. She stuck with me through homework, friend drama and later boyfriend tears.
Many kids think pets make the best companions, and now science has proven it.
Kids get more satisfaction out of relationships with their pets than they do with their brothers and sisters, according to new research from the University of Cambridge. The study found that children also appear to get along better with their pets than with their siblings.
Although dogs and cats are almost as common as brothers and sisters in traditional households, the researchers said, there are few studies that look at the importance of child-pet relationships and their long-term effect on child development.
An understudied source of comfort
‘‘Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people,” Matt Cassels, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry who led the study, said in a statement. “We wanted to know how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties. Ultimately this may enable us to understand how animals contribute to healthy child development.”
For the study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, researchers surveyed 12-year-olds from 77 families who had at least one pet and more than one child in the household. The kids reported having stronger relationships with their pets relative to relationships they had with brothers and sisters. There were lower levels of conflict and greater levels of satisfaction in children who had dogs versus other types of pets.
‘‘Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings,” Cassels said. “The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental."
Girls turn the tables
According to the researchers, earlier studies had found that boys reported having stronger relationship with their pets than girls. However, in this study, Cassels said they found the opposite.
"While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways.’’