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10 October 2001 Issue
Children With Pet Dogs Adjust Better to Parents' Divorce

by Alexandra Frean, Social Affairs Correspondent
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,2-2001331313,00.html 

CHILDREN who have pet dogs adjust better if their parents divorce than those who do not, researchers in Germany have found. A study into the behaviour and feelings of 150 children whose parents had divorced found that one year later those with a dog were less aggressive and better socially integrated than those without. Children without a dog tended to be prone to vandalism, stubborn and irritable, and likely to act up to gain attention.

Tanja Hoff, a psychologist at the University in Bonn and co-author of the research, said that pet dogs appeared to provide children from divorced families with a strong sense of security and could help in stabilising mood swings.

Her research, presented at the International Conference on Human Animal Interactions in Brazil, is based on questionnaires completed one year after divorce by a representative sample of 150 divorced mothers of only children aged six and 11. Of these, 75 had a pet dog and 75 did not. The 75 children who had a dog were also interviewed.

More than 40 per cent of children without a dog displayed aggressive behaviour, frequently breaking things on purpose, compared with 25 per cent of the children with dogs. Extreme irritability was displayed by 38 per cent of the dog-less children compared with 24 per cent of those with dogs. Thirty-six per cent of children with no dog were found to misbehave to draw attention to themselves, compared with 27 per cent of the children with a dog.

Frau Hoff attributes the therapeutic effects of a dog to the additional security the animal provides to children through its affection and loyalty. “The dog’s love is unconditional and is always there. He provides continuity and stability.”

Replies from the children backed this up. They included: “When my parents used to quarrel I always went to my dog”; “If I’m playing with my dog, then I don’t think as much about the worries I sometimes have”; “When my Daddy was no longer around, I didn’t feel quite as lonely thanks to my dog”; and “My dog always loves me”.

Frau Hoff said, however, that parents in the middle of a divorce who might be tempted to rush out and buy a dog in a desperate attempt to make their children feel better may well be wasting their time.

“All of the families in my study had had the dog for a long time,” she said. “Even so, more than 9 per cent of parents said that the dog itself was a cause of stress for them during the divorce. The additional stresses caused by having to deal with a new pet during the divorce crisis might outweigh the benefits.”

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