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Pets As ‘Social Lubricant,’ Helping Kids With Autism Develop Assertiveness

(Onesharp/Flickr via Compfight)

(Onesharp/Flickr via Compfight)

If you’ve never considered your dog or cat part of your social network, maybe it’s time to start.

A new study from the University of Missouri-Columbia finds that pets of any kind in the home may help autistic children develop crucial social skills.

Gretchen Carlisle, research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the M-U College of Veterinary Medicine, found that pets serve as a “social lubricant,” making kids more likely to engage in behaviors such as introducing themselves, responding to other people’s questions or asking for more information.

While researchers have already found that dogs provide great assistance to children with autism, Carlisle explains that her study looks at the possible benefit of all types of pets. These pets also help the greater public interact with autistic kids in social settings. “When children with disabilities take their service dogs out in public,” adds Carlisle, “other kids stop and engage. Kids with autism don’t always readily engage with others, but if there’s a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond.” Continue reading

Friends With Benefits: Can Dogs Boost Self-Esteem?

Dogs for your health?

There are no dogs allowed on Corn Hill Beach in Truro from 9-6 in summer. Still, under the sparkling sun yesterday, there they were, the Labradoodles and the terriers, the Dalmations and Golden Retrievers, frolicking in the surf, oblivious to their illegal acts. Their owners, too, appeared oblivious: “Why would anyone ban dogs from the beach?” said one tanned, fit owner throwing a tennis ball to his chocolate lab, Sophie. “I just don’t understand, how can anyone not love dogs?”

Admittedly, I’m not a pet person, and I can think of many reasons dogs should be cleared from a beach teeming with babies and seniors on a hot July day. But based on a new study, “Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership,” published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it appears I’m probably not as well-adjusted as Sophie’s owner, and the millions of other “everyday people,” who are neither sick nor needy, but still consider their pets the best companion they’ll ever have.

The study details earlier research showing pets can indeed help people with specific ailments and illnesses. For instance, the paper says, “research shows that pet owners are less likely to die within 1 year of having a heart attack than those who do not own pets.” Moreover, the authors report: “lonely people are often advised to get a dog or a cat to alleviate social isolation, and even U.S. President Harry Truman purportedly said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” But in these new experiments, researchers suggest that you don’t have to be needy or suffering from a medical condition to benefit from a cat or dog. Continue reading