There is growing scientific and societal recognition of the role that pet dogs can play in healthy development of children; both those who are neuro-typically developing and those who live with a neuro-developmental disorder, such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, little attention has been paid to how living with children positively and negatively affects quality of life of a pet dog. In this exploratory study we conducted semi-structured interviews with parents of neuro-typically developing children (n = 18) and those with a neuro-developmental disorder (n = 18) who owned a pet dog, until no new factors were identified. Living with children brought potentially positive benefits to the dog’s life including: imposition of a routine, participation in recreational activities and the development of a strong bond between the child and the dog. The importance of maintaining a routine was particularly prevalent in families with children with neuro-developmental disorders. Potential negative factors included having to cope with child meltdowns and tantrums, over stimulation from child visitors, harsh contact and rough and tumble play with the child. The regularity and intensity of meltdowns and tantrums was particularly evident in responses from parents with children with a neuro-developmental disorder. However, child visitors and rough play and contact were mentioned similarly across the groups. Protective factors included having a safe haven for the dog to escape to, parent’s awareness of stress signs and child education in dog-interaction. Parents were also asked to complete a stress response scale to provide an initial quantitative comparison of stress responses between dogs living with the two family-types. Parents with neuro-typically developing children more frequently observed their dog rapidly running away from a situation and less frequently observed their dog widening their eyes, than parents with children with a neuro-developmental disorder. We propose the development of a stress audit based on the findings reported here, to prevent potential dangerous situations, which may lead to dog bites and dog relinquishment and allow owners to maximise the benefits of dog ownership.
|Publication Title||PLoS One|
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