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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


28 November 2012

The Science Surrounding Children & Dogs: Part 2 (The Bad)

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving Julie!

I’m not exactly sure what that means, as we don’t celebrate it in Australia, but I hope you had a great time with your family and friends all the same!

Thanks for all those fantastic resources you included in your last blog post. It was also great to see some extras posted by readers in the comments section. 


Last time I looked at ‘The Good’ of some the science surrounding children and dogs. This post, it’s time to cover some of the ‘The Bad’

What can possibly be bad about children and dogs? Well, dogs don’t live as long as us, for one.

When dogs die
Having established last time that dogs can benefit kids’ confidence, self-belief, trust, respect and heaps of other positive attitudes and behaviours, I was left wondering how losing a pet dog impacts children. Loss of a companion animal can be a devastating event for people of any age.

Humans don’t all experience grief equally.
Our understanding of death is linked to our developmental state, but young children can still feel pain at the loss of a family dog. For many children, the death of a pet dog will be their first experience with this kind of loss and grief. Pet dogs can be almost-constant companions for children, and have been assigned a role in reflected appraisal similar to that of a best friend.

Psychologists encourage parents/guardians to explain death to kids sensitively and with honesty. Adults should answer questions simply, using clear and accurate information and avoid the desire to ‘protect’ children from death by hiding the truth of a pet’s illness or euthanasia. This is because children with active imaginations may create scenarios about the death that are far worse than reality

Adults should allow children to express their grief (through verbal, artistic or written expression; reading stories about the death of pets, etc.), acknowledging the importance of the relationship lost (rather than trivializing the death or running to buy a new puppy) and helping children to understand that grief is a normal and natural emotion that helps us cope with death.

Sometimes bad can be good
Some psychologists believe that such trauma (with a successful associated recovery) can strengthen our capacity to deal with future stress and adversity

This is referred to as psychological resilience and is considered a desirable and healthy process as it enables a person, or in this case a child, to develop coping strategies and support networks (friends, adults, family, etc.) that will serve them in difficult times later in life.

Your dog is a zoo-
Zoo noses? (source)
It's true (when you're using zo/zoo- as a prefix to indicate animals are involved). And it's about noses. Not noses-noses, that would be silly. I'm talking about Zoonoses. As in diseases that can transfer from animals to people. As in from a dog to a child. They're not pretty. 

Research has shown that people can be generally uninformed about some of the most common zoonotic diseases (e.g. common roundworm eggs readily transfer between dogs and people; the worm larvae can decide to live in the back of children's eyes which can lead to blindness - people should know that!)

I suggest that if any of your dog-owning friends with children aren't aware of the risks of zoonotic diseases, they run an online search for 'dogs zoonosis [insert country of residence]' so they can read up on what parasite control and other measures can be used in their neck of the globe to reduce the risk of zoonoses. 


Maintaining good child and dog health and hygiene should be a no-brainer. Did you know dogs can catch things from kids too? That's called reverse zoonosis

And to think sharing is something I normally praise my toddler for!

I hope you’ll grit your teeth and stick with me for my third post about the science surrounding children and dogs. 

You’ve seen The Good and now The Bad – next time, I'm going to bring out The UglyI'll also touch on what science has to say about our childhood experience with dogs influencing us as adults. 

What do you reckon your childhood experiences with Arf contributed to your adult attitudes?

Take care,


Further reading:

Gerwolls M.K. & Labott S.M. (1994). Adjustment to the Death of a Companion Animal, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 7 (3) 172-187. DOI:

Serpell J.A. (1981). Childhood Pets and their Influence on Adults' Attitudes, Psychological Reports, 49 (2) 651-654. DOI:

Davis J.H. (1987). Preadolescent Self-Concept Development and Pet Ownership, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 1 (2) 90-94. DOI:

Van Houtte B.A. & Jarvis P.A. (1995). The role of pets in preadolescent psychosocial development, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 16 (3) 463-479. DOI:

Bryant B.K. (1990). The Richness of the Child-Pet Relationship: A Consideration of Both Benefits and Costs of Pets to Children, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 3 (4) 253-261. DOI:

Kaufman K.R. & Kaufman N.D. (2006). And Then the Dog Died, Death Studies, 30 (1) 61-76. DOI:

Bonanno G.A. (2004). Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience: Have We Underestimated the Human Capacity to Thrive After Extremely Aversive Events?, American Psychologist, 59 (1) 20-28. DOI:

Bingham G.M., Budke C.M. & Slater M.R. (2010). Knowledge and perceptions of dog-associated zoonoses: Brazos County, Texas, USA, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 93 (2-3) 211-221. DOI:

© Mia Cobb 2012
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20 November 2012

Mixing kids & dogs: a 'how to' resource list

Hi Mia, 

Friends for life is a wonderful way to describe growing from childhood to adulthood with a dog. For me, Arf was always around till a living, breathing dog came into my life, and you clearly thought dogs were the bomb from an early age! 

And speaking of childhood dogs, how awesome is the Childhood Dog Photo Challenge that you started over on Facebook? Were you expecting people to post photos of so many dogs and kids from all over the world!?

Mia and Star; Julie and Arf
Nowadays, I imagine you and I are in the same position: People contact us with questions when a new baby is on the way and Fido’s already in the house or someone’s adding a dog to a family that already includes a child.

When this happens, I get uber excited. You and I clearly have a similar passion -- sharing information and resources -- so when an inquiry like this comes in, I can imagine we both go into OVERDRIVE!

While dogs and kids seem to have "effortless" relationships with "unconditional love," I find myself reminding parents-to-be that there are a lot of nuances that can make or break the relationship (clearly, my relationship with Arf was highly successful and bidirectional). 

There's so much to talk about when it comes to dogs and kids, and I tend to emphasize providing a dog with (1) a comfortable resting area and (2) space where a dog can choose to retreat from interactions. This is one of the main ideas I took away from my Masters program: there is a higher probability of good welfare and good interactions when animals have options and control. 

And I also pass out oodles of resources! Here are some resources pertaining to dogs and kids, including resources you shared with me from down under. Australia has great resources!

A Guide to Nurturing the Child and Pet Relationship from Pregnancy to Pre-school
The Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, Australia, put out this information, and it covers a lot, such as Preparation, The First Six Months and Baby on the Move. The strength of this guide is it reminds parents that new challenges arise at different stages of a child’s development. A dog’s perception of a newborn can change radically once that bugger starts moving around and grabbing onto anything and everything.

This website even has a Pet Planner Checklist that helps new parents prepare their dog, their house and themselves for a new baby. The checklist asks questions like: 

  • Do you need to change their current feeding routine? 
  • Which areas are going to be pet free zones?
  • Can your pet be comfortable and relaxed spending short periods of time in a crate or confined space? 
  • When the baby comes, have you organized someone to exercise the dog?

APSCA Guide To Kids and Pets
I particularly like the age-appropriate Activities for Kids and Pets as well as the section, How Kids Respond to Pets. As you point out, a toddler might think they are hugging another child when in fact, they've smashed the child to the ground, and toddlers can make the same mistake with dogs. Sometimes I think adults also have difficulty seeing their behavior for what it is and how it affects companion animals.

Family Paws

Family Paws is the parent organization of two international programs: Dogs & Storks and the Dog and Baby Connection. They offer programs for new and expecting families to support happy interactions among babies, toddlers and family dogs.

Their goal: “increase the safety of children and the success of dogs in homes with children. Decrease the number of dogs surrendered to shelters due to easily preventable behavioral problems and common conflicts.”
They offer trainer-run programs, DVDs and of course, a newsletter!

Animal Behavior Associates: Dog, Baby and Kid Resources

Dr. Suzanne Hetts and Dr. Dan Estep run Animal Behavior Associates. Both are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. They offer videos and DVDs for smooth interactions between dogs, babies and kids.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Are there other resources that anyone's particularly fond of when it comes to dog, kids and babies?

Bye for now!


© Julie Hecht 2012
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16 November 2012

The Science Surrounding Children & Dogs: Part 1 (The Good)

Hi Julie,

Oh my, but KAWAII is cute! I guess that’s kind of the point? I love that cute is good for us.

All this talk of cute, a website and some observations at home got me thinking this week.  

I recently saw this image posted on Facebook and I don’t mind admitting that it tugged at my emotions

Around the same day, I was watching my two year old toddler (an unpublished and independent kawaii survey reports the toddler is somewhat cute) interacting with my dogs (they are cute, no survey required).

The toddler is currently learning (slowly) that the world is not 100% about the toddler. This involves me frequently coaching the toddler’s interactions with other people and children (“yes it’s very sweet that you love your friend and that you’re giving them a big hug, but now you’ve actually crash-tackled them to the floor and they’re crying, it might be time to give them space”) and more recently in a similar way with the dogs.

These home observations and website images got me thinking about how important my pets, and in particular, my dogs, were to me while growing up. 

It got me wondering - why do so many of us have enduring psychological attachment to our childhood dogs
And do our childhood experiences stay with us as firmly held attitudes into adulthood? 

I plan to spend my next posts looking at some of the science surrounding children and dogs: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Why are dogs good for children?
The biophilia hypothesis suggests that people are instinctively attracted to animals and nature. It proposes that our relationship with them may contribute on an intimate biological level to our sense of fulfilment and identity. In our current busy lifestyles, often lived in industrialised city environments removed from ‘nature’ in its purest form, dogs and other companion animals offer opportunities for these ‘biophilic’ relationships. 

These nurturing relationships with animals are considered particularly important during early and middle childhood. Some research suggests that humans have a higher degree of attachment to dogs than we do to other companion animals; however, this may be a flaw in the way such studies have assessed attachment.

Dogs may promote respect and compassion for animals and nature by offering a child valuable opportunity to experience and learn about animals and the ‘facts of life’. Dogs can assist children to learn about responsibility. They can encourage trust, self-belief as well as caring attitudes and behaviour. They may promote exercise and healthy development, offer social support and provide companionship, security, comfort. Dogs can be an important source of fun and have demonstrated they can act as an outlet for childhood affection.

Research has shown that regular contact with two or more dogs in the first year of life is correlated with a reduced incidence of childhood allergies and asthma. The presence of a dog in a learning environment (such as a classroom) has been shown to contribute to children’s motivation and can speed task completion without compromising accuracy. Dogs in this context also aid emotional stability, improve children’s attitudes towards school and aid in the learning of respect, empathy and responsibility.

So it seems like there’s a lot to like about fostering a positive relationship between children and dogs. But what happens to children when such an important relationship ends? And do our childhood experiences stay with us into adulthood? 

Don't worry - I’ll be sure tell you more about that next time!


p.s. Don't forget to head over to our facebook page to keep track of the 'childhood dog' photo challenge!

Further reading:

Serpell J. (1999). Animals in Children's Lives, Society & Animals, 7 (2) 87-94. DOI:

O'Haire M. (2010). Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 5 (5) 226-234. DOI:

Melson G.F. Child Development and the Human-Companion Animal Bond, American Behavioral Scientist, 47 (1) 31-39. DOI:

Blue G.F. (1986). The Value of Pets in Children's Lives, Childhood Education, 63 (2) 85-90. DOI:

Zasloff R.L. (1996). Measuring attachment to companion animals: a dog is not a cat is not a bird, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47 (1-2) 43-48. DOI:

Holscher B., Frye C., Wichmann H.E. & Heinrich J. (2002). Exposure to pets and allergies in children, Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, 13 (5) 334-341. DOI:

Anderson K.L. & Olson M.R. (2006). The value of a dog in a classroom of children with severe emotional disorders, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 19 (1) 35-49. DOI:

Gee N.R., Harris S.L. & Johnson K.L. (2007). The Role of Therapy Dogs in Speed and Accuracy to Complete Motor Skills Tasks for Preschool Children, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 20 (4) 375-386. DOI:

© Mia Cobb 2012
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12 November 2012

Post-Sandy and The Power of Cute (Kawaii!!)

(Post-Sandy reunited)
Hi there Mia, 

This is all incredibly moving. When natural disasters strike, the damage looks so different depending on geography. Our natural disasters don’t tend to include koalas, although Sandy did cause major trouble for the NYC Aquarium (water was the big problem).

Post-Sandy Support
The local aid and support has been tremendous.

Animal Aid and Grants
As of today, a Facebook group called Hurricane Sandy Lost and Found Pets has 25,158 likes, up from 7,200 likes on 11/2/2012.

The ASPCA has been involved in various relief efforts, and their Grant Department is fielding requests from shelters and other animal welfare groups affected by Sandy. The ASPCA is expediting the process for Emergency and Disaster Response Grants.

UWSiders Help out (Source @kittykatmc)
Apart from national relief programs, there are many local efforts (big and small) to get all kinds of supplies and goods to Staten Island and other areas hit hard.

This has been a trying time for many, and it reminds me that good stuff is often found in unexpected places.

Cute Helps?
A recent study explored the phenomenon of Kawaii. Kawaii is a Japanese word meaning “cute,” and it is often considered associated with positive feelings. But can this phenomenon be measured concretely? And what does it reveal?

A recent study (Nittono et al., 2012) explored whether humans perform better at certain tasks after looking at "cute" images.

Can cute help with tasks requiring focused attention and carefulness?
Study details
Participants performed a fine motor dexterity task, similar to the children’s game Operation (the actual game used was the Bilibili Dr. game -- sidenote: based on my success rate when fishing toast out of the toaster, I owe Operation the continued use of my fingers).

Participants then viewed images of cute puppies and kittens or "not-as-cute" adult dogs and cats.

Kawaii!!!! Cute!!!!
Cute effect?
Participants’ performance was enhanced after viewing cute images, particularly when the task required focused attention and carefulness.

You can use Kawaii!!!!!!
The authors note, Kawaii things not only make us happier, but also affect our behavior.” Viewing cute images could improve performance on tasks requiring carefulness and focused attention.   

Possible applications?
  • About to go for a drive? Look at a cute puppy video
  • Prepping for some office work? Flip open a cute kitten calendar

I don’t know if the study authors would deem this “cute,” but it works for me.

Cute in my book!
What's up in your neck of the woods?


Nittono H., Fukushima M., Yano A. & Moriya H. (2012). The power of kawaii: viewing cute images promotes a careful behavior and narrows attentional focus., PloS one, PMID:

© Julie Hecht 2012
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7 November 2012

Dogs help in natural disasters. They just do.

(Australian bushfires are big. Really big. source)
Hey Julie,

What an important topic to raise. It's so important that we stop to consider what animals are experiencing in times of natural disaster and 'rescue'

It got me thinking about a different kind of natural disaster that struck my local community in February 2009, the series of bushfires (wild fires) that came to be known in Australia as the Black Saturday bushfires. 

It was horrible. 
One of the formerly forested ridges in the 2009 bushfire zone (source)
Extreme weather conditions, the lay of the land, an unexpected wind change and a series of fires that merged into one enormous front resulted in Australia's highest loss of life as a result of a bushfire. The fires were only 15km (9 miles) from my house and had the wind gone in a different direction it could easily have been my similarly bushy home area that was devastated. 

There were many, many, many people, pets, other animals and wildlife who were killed, injured and/or displaced by this huge and devastating event.

But Julie, do you know what? Dogs helpedThey really did.
In so many special ways.

A search and rescue dog and handler (source)

Volunteer handlers with their search and rescue dogs helped to locate the remains of people who had died trying to defend or take shelter in their homes, enabling identification that would assist with closure for the victim's remaining families. 

We have evidence about how important the role of dogs and pets can be in our lives. Especially for children. The relationship children form with their pets has been shown to help modulate the effects of traumatic events like natural disasters. So keeping pets with families (or in a safe place that can be visited and where families know they are safe) is an important part of helping people cope in times of disaster.

Just by being present, many dogs were acting as unwitting therapists. Offering the opportunity for calming behaviour - like patting, which has been shown to result in lower blood pressure and heart rate in the person patting the dog - when people really needed it. 

One of the most remarkable things that the injured and displaced dogs achieved was acting as a catalyst to community engagement and resilience

The nearest animal shelter to the area devastated was immediately inundated by displaced large animals, cats, dogs, other small pets and numerous wildlife. You can read their account from page 40 of the article in 'Animal Sheltering' magazine here

'Happy' was treated for burns at the shelter & featured in the media (source)

As the shelter had prepared for the possibility of a fire in the region, they were prepared to some degree. However, they found themselves immediately under pressure to find resources to house, feed and reunite hundreds of small and large animals with families who potentially (and very probably) had no homes left to return to. Within two days the shelter was inundated by offers of support from other vet clinics, community members, volunteers and people WANTING TO HELP THE DOGS (oh, OK, and the other animals!). 

A huge network swung into action sourcing and coordinating the donations of cages, blankets, food, etc. etc. from all over the country. This was an incredible feat given many of the shelter staff lived in the affected area or had friends/family affected. It gave the wider community a sense that they were contributing to help in some tangible way (enabling them to COPE on a psychological level with the awful reality) and also helped the affected area feel that people were aware of their situation and there to support them.

So important.

I'm pleased to see that your city has similarly been pulling together in the wake of Sandy.

So you see? Dogs help in natural disasters. They really do.
'Sam' the koala drinking from a volunteer fire fighter's bottle
I'll sign off now with a quick return to your point about animals in rescue situations. 

I know it's not a dog, but this koala (dubbed "Sam") is a really interesting case. Koalas are not usually considered friendly or approachable in the wild. They can hiss and bite and scratch if they are approached and feel threatened. 

But this chap offered the entire country watching these horrific events unfold a beautiful moment of hope and wonder. He let a firefighter approach him and drank from his water bottle. An illustration of a positive human-animal connection all forms of media distributed far and wide.

Highly unusual behaviour (as the firefighter acknowledges with some colourful language part way through the video!).

I hope your election day went well over there. I really enjoyed reading your contribution to this piece about Seamus Romney's trip to Canada.

'Til next time!


The region transformed in the 2009 bushfires is regenerating.
Further reading: 

Komar D. (1999) The use of cadaver dogs in locating scattered, scavenged human remains: preliminary field test results., Journal of forensic sciences, PMID:  

Yorke J. (2010). The significance of human–animal relationships as modulators of trauma effects in children: a developmental neurobiological perspective, Early Child Development and Care, 180 (5) 559-570. DOI:

Blue G.F. (1986). The Value of Pets in Children's Lives, Childhood Education, 63 (2) 85-90. DOI:  

Vormbrock J.K. & Grossberg J.M. (1988). Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog interactions, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11 (5) 509-517. DOI:

Cherry K.E., Silva J.L. & Marks L.D. (2009). The Psychology Behind Helping and Prosocial Behaviors: An Examination from Intention to Action , Lifespan Perspectives on Natural Disasters, 219-240. DOI: 

Lyons R.F., Mickelson K.D., Sullivan M.J.L. & Coyne J.C. (1998). Coping as a Communal Process, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15 (5) 579-605. DOI: 

Irvine L. (2007). Ready or Not: Evacuating an Animal Shelter During a Mock Emergency, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 20 (4) 355-364. DOI:  

Emergency Animal Welfare Plan (Department of Primary Industries Victoria)

Pets and bushfires (Country Fire Authority, Victoria)

© Mia Cobb 2012
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