There is growing evidence that dogs can help children in variety of ways, including social development, increased physical activity, coping with anxiety, or as a source of bonding with family members. However, very little research has focused on how dogs perceive children and relate to them socially. A study suggests that “dogs pay a lot of attention to the children they live with," said Monique Udell, an animal behaviorist based in Oregon who is the lead author of the study. They respond to them and, in many cases, behave in sync with them. They spread positivity and build a foundation of strong bonds. One interesting thing was observed that dogs are less likely to adjust their child's behavior than what we've seen between dogs and adult, suggesting that while they view children as social companions, there are some differences too that we need to understand better.
The article was recently published in Animal Cognition magazine and authors were Shelby Wanser, a faculty research fellow in Udell's laboratory, and Megan MacDonald, associate professor at Oregon State College of Public Health and Human Sciences, who studies how motor skills and physically active lifestyles improve the lives of children with and without disability. The researchers recruited 30 young people to study with their family dog between the ages of 8 and 17, 83% of whom had a developmental disorder. It took place in a large empty room. Color-coded lines of tape were placed on the floor and the children were instructed on how to standardize the lines with their dog on a leash. The researchers videotaped the experiments and analyzed the behavior based on three things. First, activity synchronicity, that how long the dog and child were or stood in motion at the same time. Secondly, the proximity, or how long the dog and child were within 1 meter of each other and lastly, the orientation, that is, how long the dog was oriented in the same direction as the child.