Between 2020 and 2022, more than 23 million pets were adopted into US homes. And now, families are realizing just how difficult pet socialization can be when you’re stuck indoors 24/7. As families began spending more time at home, many saw it as the perfect opportunity to welcome a furry friend into their lives. But now that adults are returning to work, managing the relationships between kids and new dogs is becoming an important topic of discussion – the reason why? Anxiety.
Anxiety in dogs can be displayed in a number of different behaviors, including noise sensitivity, aggression, impulsivity, and co-dependence or attachment to others. To indicate just how big the canine anxiety issue has become, Biospace has released a report that reveals that the US leads the market for canine separation anxiety disorder treatments. In 2021 the canine separation anxiety treatment in North America was valued at a whopping $64 million, and this figure is rising fast.
Many children are also prone to anxiety. In fact, anxiety levels in young children saw a 93% increase during 2020, a percentage that has since struggled to moderate.
The combination of anxious kids and anxious dogs makes natural bonding seem near impossible, but families and researchers from around the world are finding new ways to combat this problem.
Anxiety Breeds Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are on the rise as people (and animals) of all ages have been exposed to particularly high levels of social, political, and environmental unpredictability over the past two years. This troubling disorder can be just as prevalent in dogs, cats, and even birds as they are in humans, experts claim. Unfortunately, the nature of anxiety is to spread, and can even be emotionally “infectious” when one person or animal starts to display its symptoms.
A new study from The Journal of Veterinary Science states that dogs can pick up on and absorb anxiety from their owners. So if you have a very anxious child, their anxiety may be detected by the dogs around them as a signal to go on high alert or become restless and fretful. This may be exacerbated if the dog is already prone to anxious behavior.
Both children and dogs tend to be sensitive to their environments, making anxiety difficult to quell when one keeps triggering the other in an endless loop of worry and uncertainty. Experts say that over time, both the child and dog may either become mutually irritable, aggressive, or avoid each another altogether.
Neither is ideal for the millions of working families who are now leaving their pets and children at home while they return to work.
How To Make Your Dog And Child Best Friends
Animals (especially young ones) that were adopted during the pandemic are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety than those who were adopted outside of it. Children are also highly likely to suffer from separation anxiety as well as other forms of anxiety now that the routines they’ve spent two years perfecting are now being slowly removed from their lives.
Promoting friendship between an anxious child and dog is one way parents are combatting this problem. If the anxiety levels in one can stabilize, the chances of mutual relaxation and comfortability in the other is much higher. However, it will take effort on both sides. Creating a system of rules around petting, chasing, feeding, and handling are integral to a flourishing child-dog relationship, experts claim. Setting up controlled environments for play and integration can help kids feel safer around the dog, and help dogs understand their position within the family.
For both kids and dogs, healthy praise and rewards for good behavior towards each other has consistently proven to reinforce positive associations and encourage friendship to form. In 2022, an emphasis on building trust without the presence of parents will be critical for pet-friendly families who want to mitigate anxiety levels in their kids and dogs.
Child-Pet Relationships Decrease Anxiety For Everyone
The good news is this: if you can establish a positive relationship between your children and dog(s), everyone becomes less anxious. A 2022 study from the American Academy of Neurology has confirmed what many people have suspected all along – having a pet can decrease stress, anxiety, and even prevent cognitive decline. There are also physical benefits, such as reduced risk of asthma and allergies.
Across the board, studies conclude that growing up alongside a pet has multiple benefits for both children and adults. Kids that have separation anxiety, learning disabilities, or are on the neurodivergence spectrum can improve their interpersonal and communication skills through maintaining a long-term relationship with a pet.
Due to their ability to provide emotional support, therapy dogs in Washington DC are being employed to soothe anxious children during Covid vaccinations. The dogs serve as a welcome distraction and help anxious children become calmer as they face their fears. Instances such as this highlight the potential for success with nurturing child-pet relationships.
Reducing anxiety in children and kids won’t happen overnight, but when it does, the benefits are extraordinary.