Dogs Can Teach Children Empathy


Empathy is important in child development. Throughout the last few decades, various researchers have concluded that when children learn how to understand others’ points of views and feelings, they likely become successful adults. Other researchers have found that a way to teach children empathy is by giving them a pet such as a dog. According to an article in The Washington Post, researchers in the U.S. and the U.K. have found “a correlation between attachment to a pet and higher empathy scores”.

The Washington Post also says that children learn empathy from owning a dog through more than one way. For instance, when children hear a dog whining or see a dog waiting by the door to go outside, they are likely going to be thinking how they can help the dog feel better. They also develop empathy when performing actions such as filling up a dog’s food and water bowls, petting the dog gently, and taking the dog for a walk. They are developing the capacity to think about another being’s needs at the moment over their own.

According to the online booklet, The Empathy Connection, distributed by The Humane Society, different studies have suggested that children who own a pet have higher empathy scores, show greater empathy towards people, and perceive their pets as friends and family members who provide emotional support. In fact, pets are often used in programs such as therapy and for at-risk youth.

According to another study from 2015, children and teens who have not had the chance to develop strong empathy skills can gain these skills through animal-related programs. For example, restorative justice programs can help prevent aggressive behavior in youth in ways such as through volunteering at an animal shelter and through education on animal welfare. Also, when detained juveniles go through animal-assisted programs, they can learn responsibility and see animals “as a mirror”, which helps them develop “empathy, compassion, and ability to trust”.

Dogs have been a huge part of people’s lives for centuries, and they are clearly a great way to teach empathy. Growing up, we learn how to understand a dog’s needs and how its happiness and well-being is just as important as our own. Dogs are truly special in teaching us the important things in life.