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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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  1. Another great post! My toddler and dog share food when I'm not looking. Cute but yuk! On the brighter side, I remember my pediatrician telling me it's safer for young babies to be around the family dog than around older germy kids.

    1. Children can be such swamps of disease, can't they?!

      My dogs lick my toddler's face sometimes, and she loves patting them, it's great seeing them enjoy all those positive aspects of the dog-child relationship.

      So long as you're aware of the risks, have the appropriate prevention/risk reducing practices in place, I think there's nothing to stop them enjoying all those fun elements of a shared life!


  2. There is an implication here that the suggested roundworms are a legitimate danger, but roundworms, in fact most helminths, tend to be VERY host-species-specific, and clinical symptoms from dog parasites (at least the US ones; some tapeworm larvae will use humans as intermediate hosts) are pretty rare. The original article doesn't really establish the risk, it just seems to assume there is one important enough that dog owners should know about it.

    1. Hi Darby,

      thanks so much for this comment. There's only so much information I can fit into a blog post and this gives me an opportunity to speak more about those delicious worms!

      Interestingly, human toxocariasis is broadly cited as one of the most common zoonotic infections worldwide, but widely unknown to the general public (which is why I selected it as an example).

      Research in the USA establishes infection rates in children aged 1-11yrs between 4-7%, with children in some geographic/socio-economic subgroups showing >30% infection rate. You're correct in that infection is often asymptomatic and consequently, probably under-diagnosed.

      I guess as a parent, I think it's important to understand zoonotic diseases so I can take the steps to reduce the risks to my child. There may only be a low chance of vision loss, but that risk that my child might be the small percentage that does get affected is enough to make me be sure my pets are regularly wormed and that my toddler washes her hands, etc. To be blunt, if my child lost her vision in one eye, being told "oh, it's pretty rare" wouldn't make me feel better when paired with "but you could have done something to prevent it".

      This paper gives good background information about human toxocariasis from cats and dogs if you're interested:

      And this one suggests that dogs may be more responsible for direct transfer of Toxocara canis than previously thought:

      Thanks again for the chance to get more in-depth and wormy!


  3. I find your blog posts interesting, informative and mostly enjoyable. But, I find your constant change of font in some posts annoying and distracting. I would assume most of your patrons know how to read and how to extract the important information without all the big, small, dark, italicized, up down and around font changes. Try to cool it, please.

    1. Duly noted!

      What helps some people break up large chunks of texts can obviously be annoying and distracting to others. Thanks for the feedback, I'll keep trying to get the balance right!



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