Lisa Freeman, a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts observed that if a child read to a dog, the child's desire and ability to read seemingly increased. Was it possible that dogs could enhance a child's reading skills? Freeman decided to answer that question.
Over a five-week period, Freeman, a few furry dogs and 18 second-graders gathered at a local library. Freeman split the children into two groups. One group read whatever book they wanted aloud to a dog for 30 minutes each week. The other group did the same, except their audience was a human adult. When the five weeks were up, Freeman measured the children's reading abilities. The children who read to the canines increased the number of words they could read per minute. As for the children who read to the humans -- the number of words they read per minute decreased [source: Johnson].
Freeman then measured the children's general attitude toward reading. The dog-reading group showed a positive increase in their feelings toward reading, while the human-reading group showed a decline. Moreover, a third of the children dropped out of the human group, while no one left their canine audience [source: Johnson].
Freeman's research is another bit of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that suggests dogs play a huge role in the health of children. In fact, scientists are now studying whether dogs have a profound impact on the health of autistic children [source: Baranauckas]. Milo, the autistic son of Claire Vaccaro from Manhattan, knows this first hand. Milo's life changed when a four-legged yellow Labrador retriever named Chad came into his life. With Chad as his new best friend, the boy became much calmer and was able to concentrate more. Milo's mother said it was almost like a "cloud was lifted" [source: Baranauckas].
Such stories don't seem that far-fetched to dog owners as science starts to find out what most of us have known all along -- that having a pet around makes for a healthier lifestyle. Studies show that spending time with a dog decreases the level of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, in the human body. Moreover, dogs and other pets spur the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes people feel good about themselves [source: WebMD].
The benefits to children seem to be overwhelming. A parent would think that having a pet increases their child's chance of getting an allergy. Not so. Researchers say a child growing up in home with a furry dog, or cat for that matter (we can't forget Fluffy), will have less chance of coming down with allergies or asthma than children who live without animals [source: Davis].
To underscore the point, James E. Gern, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, analyzed the blood of babies immediately after they were born and one year later. He concluded that infants who lived with pets were less like to show evidence of pet allergies. They were also less likely to suffer from a skin condition called eczema [source: Davis].
Dogs also help a bolster a child's social skills and self-esteem. Dogs are conversation pieces with wet noses and sloppy tongues. Dog owners love to talk about their pups and interact with other dog owners. Children, who play with their dogs around other children, learn important social and communication skills.
Moreover, dogs allow hyperactive kids to learn responsibility. Playing with a dog is also a good way for kids with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder to release excess energy and to enhance their self-esteem [source: WebMD].
Studies also show that dogs lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Like we said before, is there anything Fido can't do? So, the next time little Joey or Molly nags you to get a dog, think about all the health benefits our furry friends provide. It might just be cheaper than going to the doctor.