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Children Love Their Pets: Do Relationships between Children and Pets Co-vary with Taxonomic Order, Gender, and Age?

By Katharina Hirschenhauser, Yasmine Meichel, Sabrina Schmalzer, Andrea M. Beetz

Category Journal Articles
Abstract

Generally, children love their pets. However, a deeper insight into the beneficial effects of pets on the physical, psychological, and social wellbeing and development of children is needed. This study investigated whether children have more intense relationships with animals which are behaviorally similar to humans (according to the scala naturae), and whether the relationship patterns between 11- to 14-year-old children (n = 72) and their pets differ from those in prepubescent children, between 6 and 10 years of age (n = 84). We also investigated whether pet-relationship quality is associated with children’s age, gender, and number of siblings. Data about individual bonding type and attachment quality between the children and their pet were collected using a questionnaire. The results indicate that the younger children’s relationships clearly co-varied with taxonomic order of the pet. In contrast, 11- to 14-year-old children reported similarly high scores of attachment with their mouse or iguana as with their dog or cat, and the relationship patterns did not co-vary with taxonomic order. Gender effects on relationship quality were found in both age groups; especially girls reported intense relationships with their pets. In addition to gender, children without siblings had stronger attachment to their pet than children who had siblings. Our data suggest that young children develop high-quality relationships with pets, particularly those which are taxonomically closely related, such as dogs and cats, and less so with other pet species, such as birds or fish. Older children were also able to strongly attach to other pet species. We argue that mental relationship representations change during puberty and that older (11- to 14-year-old) children may no longer make attachments to pets based on them being behaviorally similar to people.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 30
Issue 3
Pages 441-456
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2017.1357882
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Tags
  1. Attachment
  2. Bonds
  3. Companion
  4. Human-animal relationships
  5. Socioemotional development