How can having a pet help your health?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Previous research has shown that both trained therapy animals and people’s pets can help reduce stress and improve mood. Dogs can be particularly helpful because having a dog encourages people to walk more and be more active. Having a pet also seems to help people develop self-efficacy, or the belief they can reach their goals, even when doing so is hard. We want to learn more about how having a dog can help children make healthy changes.

    In this study, children (ages 8-13) who live with a dog will answer some questions about how they interact with their dog. We will also ask about how much support and encouragement they receive from their parents, friends, and dogs. Parents will also be asked to fill out a short demographic survey and we will measure children’s height and weight.

    We predict that some children will be more attached to their pet dogs than other children, similar to adults. We are interested in how these children say they interact with their dogs compared to children who are less attached.

    This information will help us develop new interviews to better understand children’s relationships with their pets and what role pet dogs could play in future healthy lifestyle programs. We hope to create new programs that partner children with dogs to be more active and engage in healthier lifestyles.

    This study is being performed by Dr. Deborah Linder, a veterinarian at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and an Associate Director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction. This study was funded by the NIH CTSA Award UL1TR001064.

        » Dr. Deborah Linder

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Group Walking

    Find the “How efficient is your walk?” link station in the Food environment. Test how many calories you burn when you go for a walk. Now try walking again, but this time pretend that you’re walking with your dog or with a friend. Does this change how you walk? Does the image of your body look different? Did you burn more calories or less?

    Try to think of other things that might make you walk differently and experiment with how this changes the calories you burn.

    Help Map

    Find the “How does your circle of friends change your brain?” link station in the Communities environment. Help your child map his or her social network. Ask your child to think about how different ways of talking with people might change how, or how well, they provide support. Do different groups help them with different goals?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Reaching Your Goals

    Ask your child about something s/he is trying to achieve or a goal that s/he might want to start working towards. Talk about different strategies people can use to help them meet their goals. Who do they turn to for support? Are there other people who could help in different ways? What actions can they take to support themselves?

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