ArticlePDF Available

Child Development and the Human-Companion Animal Bond



Companion animals are more common in households with minor children than in any other household type. More than 70% of U.S. households with children also have pets, with most parents reporting acquisition of an animal "for the children." Yet, studies of children's development largely have been limited to children's relationships with other humans. This article argues for a biocentric approach to development, in which children's contacts with the non-human world—animals, plants, and natural ecologies—come under scientific scrutiny. To understand the developmental significance of this ubiquitous aspect of children's environments, theory and research on companion animals in relation to perceptual, cognitive, social, and emotional development are reviewed and evaluated. The significance of children's encounters with animals, especially in the context of a human-companion animal bond, is emphasized. Biocentric research directions are described.
Child Development
Child Development and the Human Companion Animal Bond
Gail F. Melson
Purdue University
Child Development
Companion animals are more common in households with minor children than in any
other household type. Over 70% of U. S. households with children also have pets,1 with
most parents reporting acquisition of an animal “for the children.” Yet, studies of
children’s development largely have been limited to children’s relationships with other
humans. This paper argues for a biocentric approach to development, in which children’s
contacts with the nonhuman world—animals, plants, and natural ecologies—come under
scientific scrutiny. To understand the developmental significance of this ubiquitous
aspect of children’s environments, theory and research on companion animals in relation
to perceptual, cognitive, social and emotional development are reviewed and evaluated.
The significance of children’s encounters with animals, especially in the context of a
human-companion animal bond, is emphasized. Biocentric research directions are
Child Development
Child Development and the Human Companion Animal Bond
When the children were changing the water of the goldfish, Frank had a sudden impulse
of cruelty, and said to the others, “Shall we stamp on it?”…Before she [the teacher] could
stop them, they had thrown the fish out into the sand and stamped on it. They stood
round and looked at it, rather excited, and obviously wishing they hadn’t done it, and
Frank said, “Now let’s put it into water, and then it’ll come alive again.” (Isaacs, 1930,
pp. 204-205).
Raymond put on his blue-jean pants as he stood by the bed. Honey, Raymond’s fat,
broad, elderly fox terrier, ambled into the room. Raymond greeted her in a sleepy but
friendly voice. “Hi, Honey.” Honey put her front paws on Raymond’s knees. He
scratched her back and patted her as he finished buckling his belt. (Barker & Wright,
1951, p. 18)
Drew: “You know what?” Mr. Lloyd: “Hmm?” Drew: “I have a turtle except it died.”
Mr. Lloyd: “Why did it die?” Drew: “It wasn’t eating its food, turtle food.” (Myers,
1998, p. 56).
In the quotations above, spanning almost seventy years, scholars of child
development observed naturally occurring encounters between children and companion
animals. In the first quote, Susan Isaacs, a British psychoanalyst, described a group of
preschool children in her nursery school as they learned, the hard way, about the needs of
fish. The second quote comes from One Boy’s Day, by the Americans Roger Barker and
Herbert Wright, pioneers of ecological psychology, who demonstrated their method of
behavioral observation within natural settings by meticulously recording every waking
moment in a single day (April 26, 1949) in the life of seven year old Raymond living
with his parents and dog Honey in a small Midwestern town. In the third quote, Gene
Myers, a contemporary environmental psychologist, sensitively recorded a group of
preschoolers for a year as they interacted with, looked at, and thought about animals.
These three accounts are exemplary, but they are not common. By and large,
scholars of child development have ignored or, at best, slighted children’s relationships
with companion animals. This is surprising, for several reasons. First, companion
Child Development
animals are hardly a rare phenomenon; a recent survey by the American Veterinary
Medical Association reported that 70 percent of all households with children under six
years of age and 78% of all households with children over six had pets (AVMA, 1997).
(Similar percentages are reported in countries of Western Europe.) Moreover, pets are
more likely to be found in households with minor children than in any other household
type2. Companion animals and children literally go together; their co-occurrence within
households raises the question of what, if any, influence each might have on the other.
Secondly, the theoretical paradigms currently dominating the study of child development
emphasize the importance of studying children within their naturally occurring
environments, as Barker and Wright had urged over fifty years ago. For example,
Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) widely adopted ecological systems framework stresses that
individual characteristics of children interact with multiple interrelated settings, such as
family, school, peer groups, neighborhoods, communities, and society, and urges detailed
examination of environmental characteristics and children’s interactions with them.
Dynamic systems theory (Thelen, 2000), relationship psychology (Fogel, 1993), and
attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) all situate children’s development within the context
of important relationship bonds. Presumably, these theoretical orientations would have
led to studies of the non-human companions who are present in the majority of children’s
environments, yet, with a few exceptions (see, in particular Bryant, 1985 and Myers,
1998), scholars have restricted their inquiries to human relationships.
Elsewhere (Melson, 2001) I have argued that this anthropocentric, or human only,
focus has impeded both theory and research into the developmental significance of
animals, especially companion animals, for children. However, a small but growing
Child Development
group of developmentalists (Kahn, 1999; Myers, 1998) has been urging a “biocentric”
approach to child development. Such an approach assumes that children will exhibit
interest in and involvement with non-human as well as human aspects of their
environments. Consistent with the biophilia hypothesis (Kellert, 1997; Wilson, 1984),
which posits that humans have adapted to be attentive to life forms, children are expected
to show particular interest in living non-humans, especially other animals.3
To demonstrate the usefulness of such an approach, I will briefly describe how
considering children’s connections with companion animals can enrich understanding of
children’s perceptual, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Where possible, I
will draw on empirical research that helps document this claim. However, because of the
anthropocentric focus described earlier, the research base is inadequate for most
generalizations about children’s relationships with companion animals. Noting this, I
will hypothesize about potential developmental significance in areas not fully
investigated to date, and suggest fruitful research avenues for future study. I conclude
with some cautions that point to the challenges inherent in biocentric studies of
Although most studies of pets in the children’s lives have understandably focused
on social and emotional aspects, there are intriguing indications that companion animals
also may play a role in perceptual, cognitive, and language development. Therefore, I
begin with these more speculative areas.
Perceptual and cognitive development
The great scholar Eleanor Gibson’s work on perceptual development (1988)
provides a starting point. In her theory of perceptual affordances, infants extract
Child Development
knowledge through looking at, hearing, feeling, tasting, and acting on objects, thereby
discovering what objects “afford,” or the “what-can-I-do-with-this?” of things. During
the first year of life (precisely when is still debated), infants distinguish between the
movement of living beings and the movement of inanimate objects. For example, seven
month olds register a surprised expression if they see an inanimate object, like a block of
wood, appear to move without any force applied to it, but they are not surprised when a
person initiates movement (Spelke, Phillips, & Woodward, 1995). (This study has not
been replicated with a moving non-human animal.) In Gibson’s terms, living beings, such
as a live cat, have fundamentally different affordances than do objects like a stuffed toy
cat of the same size and shape.
There is some evidence that the affordances of companion animals are
perceptually interesting to young children, sustain their attention, and motivate their
curiosity. Aline Kidd and Robert Kidd, who have extensively studied children and their
pets, compared how infants and toddlers, ranging from six- to thirty months of age,
behaved toward their pet dogs and cats as compared with a “lifelike” battery-operated toy
dog and toy cat. The babies smiled, held, followed, and made sounds to the live animals,
especially the dogs, more than to the toy ones (Kidd & Kidd, 1987). In another study,
which, unlike that of the Kidds, controlled for the novelty of objects, nine-month olds
approached, touched, and looked at a live dwarf rabbit more than a female adult stranger
or a wooden turtle that moved, made noises, and flashed lights (Ricard & Allard, 1992).
As a final illustration of the affordances of living animals, consider the findings of
Nielsen and Delude (1989), who observed how two- to six-year olds in their day care or
kindergarten classrooms responded to a variety of live animals—a Mexican red-legged
Child Development
tarantula, a two-and-a-half-month-old English angora rabbit, a mature cockatiel, and a
five-year-old female golden retriever dog—as well as two realistic stuffed plush animals
—a dog and a bird. The children ignored the stuffed animals (80% never looked at them),
but the live animals, especially the dog and bird, were powerful stimuli. Seventy-four
percent touched the dog, which was in a sit-stay position, and 21% kissed the dog. Over
two thirds talked to the bird.
The perceptually intriguing affordances of living animals may well stimulate
children’s learning, particularly about the characteristics and needs of animals (including
other humans and themselves), or what psychologists term “naïve biology” (Carey,
1985). In support of this, Japanese kindergarteners caring for pet goldfish, as compared
with their classmates, better understood unobservable goldfish biology, as shown by their
more accurate answers to questions like: “Does a goldfish have a heart?” The goldfish
raisers also reasoned more accurately about other species, using analogies from goldfish
care. One child explained that a baby frog could not stay the same size forever since “the
frog will grow bigger as my goldfish got bigger.” (Hatano & Inagaki, 1993). Although
this study did not measure the relation between goldfish raising and understanding of
death, it is possible that caring for companion animals promotes more elaborated and
more accurate ideas about life and death.
Why do companion animals, indeed all animals, present such good learning
opportunities? In the words of Hatano and Inagaki (1993, p. 126) a living animal
presents “inherently occurring variations in its critical parameters.” In other words,
animals are predictably unpredictable. To the observing child, animal behavior embodies
what Piaget (1969) argues is the engine of all learning: cognitive incongruity, moderate
Child Development
discrepancy from established schema, and novel information. Moreover, for many
children, companion animals are likely to be powerful motivators for learning, for at least
two well-established reasons: (a) children learn and retain more about subjects in which
they are emotionally invested4; and (b) children’s learning is optimized when it occurs
within meaningful relationships (Vygotsky, 1978).
Social and emotional development
Most research and theoretical attention to companion animals in the lives of
children has focused on these domains of development. Considerable evidence
documents that companion animals are important affective ties that many children rank
among their most intimate (Melson, 2001). For example, when asked to name the ten
most important individuals in their lives, seven- and ten-year olds, included on average
two pets (Bryant, 1985). Establishing the importance of companion animal ties is an
essential precondition to exploring their functions for socio-emotional development. To
illustrate, below, I briefly review two functions, social support and nurturance.
Social support: Hundreds of studies identify lack of human social support as a
significant risk factor for physical and psychological problems, especially for vulnerable
groups of children and adults (Cohen & McKay, 1984). There is evidence that many pet-
owning children derive emotional support from their pets. In a sample of seven- and ten-
year olds in California, Bryant (1985) found that pet owners were as likely to talk to their
pets about sad, angry, happy, and secret experiences as with their siblings. In interviews
with a sample of Michigan ten- to fourteen year olds, 75% said that when upset, they
turned to their pets (Covert, et. al., 1985). In a study of 68 five year olds in Indiana, all
about to enter public schooling, 42% spontaneously mentioned a pet when asked: “Who
Child Development
do you turn to when you are feeling sad, angry, happy, or wanting to share a
secret?”(Melson & Schwarz, 1994).
Children appear to discriminate among the support provisions of different
relationships; when comparing parents, friends, and pets, elementary school children
considered ties with pets most likely to last “no matter what” and “even if you get mad at
each other” (Furman, 1989). In an indication that using pet support may have adaptive
value, parents of those five-year-olds who turned to their pets for support rated them as
less anxious and withdrawn, as compared with same age children who did not use pet
support, but had pets available within their homes (Melson & Schwarz, 1994).
Nurturance: Since pets are dependent upon human care for survival and optimal
development, companion animals provide children the opportunity to learn about,
practice, and become motivated to appropriately nurture another being. Elsewhere (Fogel
& Melson, 1986), my colleagues and I have argued that the development of nurturance is
an important underpinning for effective parenting, non-family child care, and care giving
of elderly and persons with disabilities or illnesses. Importantly, from age three, both
boys and girls perceive nurturing human young as gender-linked, or in the words of one
preschooler, “a mommy thing.”(Melson, 2001; Melson, Fogel, & Toda, 1986). However,
children view caring for pets, such as dogs and cats, as gender-neutral (Melson & Fogel,
1989). Consistent with these perceptions, boys engage in less, girls in more, baby and
child care with age; by contrast, both boys and girls similarly maintain consistent, high
levels of pet care as they develop. For example, according to parent reports, the amount
of time children devote to pet care and play with pets increases steadily with age from
five- to twelve years of age, while sibling care time correspondingly declines. As a
Child Development
result, twelve-year olds are spending more time caring for pets than caring for younger
siblings, when both are present in their families (Melson & Fogel, 1996). Another study
found that 75% of eight- to ten-year olds had sole or shared responsibility for pet care,
and 92% felt that caring for their pets was an “important” or “very important” part of
their relationship with the animal (Rost & Hartmann, 1987).
If as Robert Weiss (1974) suggests, the opportunity to nurture others is a basic
human need, even in childhood, pets may play a compensatory role in providing this
outlet for only or youngest children. In support of this, we have found that pet owning
children without younger siblings spend more time in pet care and play than do their
counterparts with younger brothers or sisters (Melson & Fogel, 1996).
There is no consistent evidence that nurturing pets generalizes to more sensitive
care giving of humans. In a retrospective survey of British university students, greater
involvement caring for pets during childhood was related only to more humane attitudes
toward pet and non-pet animals and more concerns about animal welfare (Paul & Serpell,
1993). However, a first- and fourth-grade classroom intervention designed to teach more
appropriate, humane forms of nurturing produced greater empathy toward other children
as well as more humane attitudes toward animals (Ascione, 1992). Consistent with this,
five- and six-year olds more attached to their pets expressed greater empathy toward
peers (Melson, Peet, & Sparks, 1992), while seven- and ten-year olds who report more
“intimate talks” with pets also report more empathy (Bryant, 1985). Since empathy, or
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is a necessary (although not
sufficient) condition for nurturance, these findings should encourage further inquiry into
links between nurturing pets and human relationships.
Child Development
As noted earlier, research on children and companion animals is limited in both
quantity and quality. With few exceptions, studies are correlational, leaving many
confounds in any obtained relationship, and preventing any causal conclusions. Take the
association between human-directed empathy and attachment to pets, noted above.
Parents may obtain pets for children who are already empathic. Highly empathic children
may have greater skill at bonding with an animal (as well as a person).
Another issue is the lack of research that integrates assessment of relationships
with both humans and animals. For example, contemporary studies of children’s social
support continue to ask only about those “people” who are important to the child, while
research on the human-companion animal bond restricts its inquiry to support derived
from pets. This separation of scholarship on human from human-animal relationships
prevents scholars from investigating whether, for example, pet support might compensate
for, amplify, or be unconnected to human support.
A third concern is the tendency to examine either presumably positive aspects of
children’s relationships with their pets, such as attachment to one’s pet, or less frequently,
negative aspects (cruelty toward animals, for example) (Ascione, 1993), without
integrating both dimensions within the same study. An exception is Ascione, who, with
colleagues, has developed an interview protocol to gather information on both
maltreatment of and kindness toward animals (Ascione, Thompson, & Black, 1997).
When scholars inquire about multiple facets of child-pet relationships, they uncover
considerable complexity. Children report both benefits and “costs” (for example, distress
Child Development
over a missing animal) to pet ownership (Bryant, 1990); similarly, they readily identify
things they like and don’t like about their pet.
Finally, particularly when children are studied, the child-pet relationship should
be viewed systemically, since family dynamics, particularly parent-child relationships,
always modify and shape children’s other relationships. Because the overwhelming
majority of pet owners identifies their animals as “family members,” the insights of
family systems theory is useful to examine how pets alter (and are altered by) family
dynamics. A study by Ann Cain (1985) offers intriguing hints of what we might find. Her
interviews contain many examples of both adults and children “triangling” pets, that is,
deflecting to pets or routing through pets emotion and communication intended for other
human family members. For example, a mother is angry at her daughter, but yells at the
dog instead; a father talks to the cat so that his son can overhear, saying things he would
not say directly to the child. Other aspects of pets within the family system are ripe for
investigation. Children may cast their pets as functional younger siblings, as peer
playmates, as their own “children” or even, as a security providing attachment figure.
In sum, there is enough existing research to argue for expansion of scholarship on
children’s environments to include non-human animals (as well as plants and natural
ecologies). A biocentric account of children’s development considers children’s
experiences with all living things, particularly animals, as well as humans. Such an
account is yet to be written, but exploration of the significant ties of children with their
pets is an excellent starting point.
Child Development
Child Development
Ascione, F. (1992). Enhancing children’s attitudes about the humane treatment of
animals: Generalization to human-directed empathy. Anthrozoos, 5, 176-191.
Ascione, F., Thompson, T., & Black, T. (1997). Childhood cruelty to animals:
Assessing cruelty dimensions and motivations. Anthrozoos, 10, 170-173.
Barker, R. G., & Wright, H. F. (1951). One boy’s day: A specimen record of
behavior. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. NY: Basic Books.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Bryant, B. (1985). The neighborhood walk: Sources of support in middle
childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50, No. 210.
Bryant, B. (1990). The richness of the child-pet relationship: A consideration of
both benefits and costs of pets to children. Anthrozoos, 3, 253-261.
Cain, A. (1985). Pets as family members. In M. B. Sussman, ed., Pets and the
family (pp.5-10). NY: Haworth Press.
Carey, S. 1985). Conceptual change in childhood. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Cohen, S. & McKay, G. (1984). Social support, stress, and the buffering
hypothesis: A theoretical analysis. In A. Baum, J. E. Singer, & S. E. Taylor, eds.,
Handbook of psychology and health (pp. 253-267). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Child Development
Covert, A. M., Whirren, A. P., Keith, J., & Nelson, C. (1985). Pets, early
adolescents, and families,” Marriage and Family Review, 8, 95-108.
Fogel, A. (1993). Developing through relationships: Origins of communication,
self, and culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fogel, A. & Melson, G. F. (1986). Origins of nurturance: Developmental,
biological and cultural perspectives on caregiving. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Furman, W. (1989). The development of children’s social networks. In D. Belle
(ed.), Children’s social networks and social supports (pp. 151-172). NY: Wiley.
Gibson, E. (1988). Exploratory behavior in the development of perceiving, acting,
and the acquiring of knowledge. Annual Review of Psychology, 39, 1-41.
Hatano, G. & Inagaki, K. (1993). Desituating cognition through the construction
of conceptual knowledge,” in G. Salomon, ed., Distributed cognitions (pp. 115-133). NY:
Cambridge University Press.
Isaacs, S. (1930). Intellectual growth in young children. London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul.
Kahn, P. (1999). The human relationship with nature: Development and culture.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kellert, S. (1997). Kinship to mastery: Biophilia in human evolution and
development. Washington, D. C.: Island Press.
Kidd, A. H., & Kidd, R. M. (1987). Reactions of infants and toddlers to live and
toy animals. Psychological Reports, 61, 455-464.
Melson, G. F. (2001). Why the wild things are: Animals in the lives of children.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Child Development
Melson, G. F. & Fogel, A. (1989). Children’s ideas about animal young and their
care: A reassessment of gender differences in the development of nurturance.
Anthrozoos, 2, 265-273.
Melson, G. F. & Fogel, A. (1996). Parental perceptions of their children’s
involvement with household pets. Anthrozoos, 9, 95-106.
Melson, G. F., Fogel, A., & Toda, S. (1986). Children’s ideas about infants and
their care. Child Development, 57, 1519-1527.
Melson, G. F., Peet, S., & Sparks, C. (1992). Children’s attachment to their pets:
Links to socioemotional development. Children’s Environments Quarterly, 8, 55-65.
Melson, G. F. & Schwarz, R. (1994). Pets as social supports for families of young
children. Paper presented to annual meeting of the Delta Society, New York, October.
Myers, G. (1998). Children and animals: Social development and our connections
to other species. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Nielsen, J. A. & Delude, L. A. (1989). Behavior of young children in the presence
of different kinds of animals. Anthrozoos, 3, 119-129.
Paul, E., & Serpell, J. (1993). Childhood petkeeping and humane attitudes in
young adulthood. Animal Welfare, 2, 321-337.
Piaget, J. (1969). The child’s conception of the world. Totowa, NJ: Littlefield,
Ricard, M. & Allard, L. (1992). The reaction of 9-to-10-month-old infants to an
unfamiliar animal. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 154, 14.
Rost, D. H. & Hartmann, A. (1987). Children and their pets. Anthrozoos, 7, 242-
Child Development
Spelke, E. S., Phillips, A., & Woodward, A. L. (1995). Infants’ knowledge of
object motion and human action. In D. Sperber, D. Premack, & A. J. Premack, eds.,
Causal cognition: A multidisciplinary debate (pp. 44-78) Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Thelen, E. (2000). Grounded in the world: Developmental origins of the
embodied mind. Infancy, 1, 3-28.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Weiss, R. (1974). The provisions of social relationships. In Z. Rubin, ed., Doing
unto others (pp. 17-26). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
1 I use the terms “companion animals” and “pets” interchangeably, although their meaning varies slightly. The former
term more readily includes horses kept for recreational and companionship purposes. In these contexts, horses are not
commonly referred to as “pets.”
2 Estimates of non-humans residing in households are more unreliable than estimates of humans because national census
taking within the U.S. and other countries collects data only on humans.
3 Humans are of course animals, but following customary usage and for clarity, I refer to all non-human animals as
“animals” and to human animals as “humans.”
4 In the only study demonstrating this point with companion animals, Inagaki showed that Japanese six-year-olds who
cared for pet goldfish at home had more knowledge about the biology of animals than did age mates whose teachers
assigned them to care for classroom rabbits and ducks (Hatano & Inagaki, 1993).
... The ethological approach suggests that HRI should be viewed as a particular case of inter-specific interaction and that human-animal interaction can therefore provide an especially insightful model for the relationship between children and pet robots. The observation of natural social systems in which humans interact with non-humans can be interesting in at least four key areas: analyzing the emotional link that child owners form with their pets; understanding the reasons for and dynamics of adoption in a family environment; identifying the most appreciated features of pets among their owners (Konok et al., 2018;Melson, 2003); and designing social behaviors in pet robots that can forge lasting relationships (Faragó et al., 2014). ...
... Meanwhile, the child-pet relationship has been termed a flexible alliance that takes many forms and fulfills some of the important developmental functions that are present in human-human relationships. The benefits of relatedness with animals have been recurrently reported, and include satisfaction of needs to nurture and be cared for, to support and derive support from, to play with, and to secure companionship, among others (Melson, 2003). Parents also cite increased responsibility and "fun" as benefits that animal companions confer on their children (Melson & Fine, 2010). ...
... Our approach highlights three key features of bonding: its social dimension, its behavioral expression and its dynamic essence. We assume that the specific family context decisively influences the formation of bonds with robotic pets -like any process in children's lives-since family dynamics, particularly parent-child relationships, always modify and shape children's other relationships (Melson, 2003). Parents are always important stakeholders in any child's decision, and the family environment is even more influential when it comes to pet adoption and the use of robots as social companions at home (Fernaeus et al., 2010;Kidd et al., 1992). ...
Full-text available
The challenge of long-term interaction between humans and robots is still a bottleneck in service robot research. To gain an understanding of sustained relatedness with robots, this study proposes a conceptual framework for bond formation. More specifically, it addresses the dynamics of children bonding with robotic pets as the basis for certain services in healthcare and education. The framework presented herein offers an integrative approach and draws from theoretical models and empirical research in Human Robot Interaction and also from related disciplines that investigate lasting relationships, such as human-animal affiliation and attachment to everyday objects. The research question is how children’s relatedness to personified technologies occurs and evolves and what underpinning processes are involved. The subfield of research is child-robot interaction, within the boundaries of social psychology, where the robot is viewed as a social agent, and human-system interaction, where the robot is regarded as an artificial entity. The proposed framework envisions bonding with pet-robots as a socio-affective process towards lasting connectedness and emotional involvement that evolves through three stages: first encounter, short-term interaction and lasting relationship. The stages are characterized by children’s behaviors, cognitions and feelings that can be identified, measured and, maybe more importantly, managed. This model aims to integrate fragmentary and heterogeneous knowledge into a new perspective on the impact of robots in close and enduring proximity to children.
... One difficulty in integrating findings in this literature is the lack of a common framework to describe children's relationships with pets. For example, some studies assess pet relationships along a single dimension of closeness (Melson, 2003), whereas others focus on specific relationship qualities (e.g., companionship; Bryant & Donnellan, 2007;Cassels et al., 2017). Almost all studies focus on the positive qualities of pet relationships, and the negative qualities have not been systematically studied (see Kertes et al., 2018 andCassels et al., 2017, for exceptions). ...
... We focused on dogs given that they are the most common household pet (Bures et al., 2019;Westgarth et al., 2013), children report higher levels of closeness and satisfaction in relationships with dogs compared to other pets (Cassels et al., 2017;Westgarth et al., 2013), and dogs are especially sensitive to social cues (Jalongo, 2015). Ideally, such measures would allow for assessing specific relationship qualities (e.g., companionship, intimacy) as well as yielding broad measures of relationship quality (e.g., support, negative interactions) so studies could test hypotheses about the importance of specific relationship qualities (e.g., the hypothesis that nurturing pets promotes prosocial behavior in children; Melson, 2003). In addition, the content of the measures would reflect the types of interactions and relationship qualities found in child-dog relationships. ...
... Nevertheless, there may be occasions when the assessment of specific qualities would provide a more refined test of the potential impact of pet dog relationships. For example, assessment of specific qualities is necessary to test whether opportunities to take care of pets (i.e., nurturance of pet) promotes empathy in children (Melson, 2003). In addition, it may be that some qualities are more important for children's well-being, and testing this idea would require measures that allow for distinguishing between different positive relationship qualities (e.g., companionship with a pet might mitigate feelings of loneliness). ...
Relationships with pet dogs are thought to provide substantial benefits for children, but the study of these relationships has been hindered by a lack of validated measures. Approaches to assessing the quality of children's pet dog relationships have tended to focus on positive relationship qualities and to rely on self‐report questionnaires. The aim of this study was to develop and test multiple measures that could be used to assess both positive and negative features of children's relationships with pet dogs. In a sample of 115 children ages 9–14 years who were pet dog owners, we assessed six qualities of pet dog relationships: Affection, Nurturance of Pet, Emotional Support from Pet, Companionship, Friction with Pet, and Pets as Substitutes for People. All qualities were assessed with child questionnaires, parent questionnaires, and child daily reports of interactions with pets. We found substantial convergence in reports from different observers and across different measurement approaches. Principal components analyses and correlations suggested overlap for many of the positive qualities, which tended to be distinct from negative relationship qualities. The study provides new tools which could be used to test further how relationships with pets contribute to children's development.
... However, we cannot make conclusions about this given the lack of evidence. Previous research has shown that direct contact with animals is important for developing compassion, moral concern, species-specific knowledge of animal care, understanding of appropriate about pet care and needs, and promoting human-animal bonds (Melson, 2003;Kurdek, 2008;Serpell, 2004). However, involving animals in education raises welfare concerns and the impact on the animals themselves who are involved in animal welfare education is very much an under researched (Fine & Huss, 2017). ...
... As Pet Welfare was aimed at children aged 7-12-years old, both affective and cognitive domains were targeted, and potential age differences were considered, as recommended by Arbour, Signal and Taylor (2009). Middle childhood is an important time for educational intervention due to a peak in pet ownership (Paul & Serpell, 1993), receptivity to animal welfare education (Melson, 2003), as well as important changes in cognitive development including increases in prosocial moral reasoning and empathetic moral concerns (Eisenberg-Berg, 1979;Flavell, 2004). Furthermore, childhood is a key time for the development of attitudes and related behaviours, reinforcing the importance of encouraging humane orientations to animals early on (Borgi & Cirulli, 2015). ...
Full-text available
Animal welfare education aims to nurture compassion, respect and kindness to animals but there remains a need for more rigorous evaluations of such programmes to assess the most effective approaches. Incorporating technology into animal welfare education is a relatively novel field. This study examines the process of designing, developing, and evaluating the effectiveness of a new theoretically-driven educational computer game intervention. Pet Welfare was designed for children aged 7-12 years, to promote positive child-animal interactions. A pre-test, post-test, test-control, quasi-experimental design was used using a self-report questionnaire that children completed within class. Participants included 184 primary-school children from schools in Scotland, UK. The results indicated a positive impact on knowledge about animal welfare needs, knowledge about appropriate and safe behaviour towards pets and beliefs about pet minds. Children were also less accepting of cruelty to pets. There was no impact on self-reported compassion. This study presents the first evaluation of a digital animal welfare ‘serious game’ for children, demonstrating the benefits of incorporating technology and game-based learning into animal cruelty prevention. The results of this study will inform future education directions for those wishing to promote positive and safe relationships between children and animals.
... This research is directly concerned with the two school and family microsystems and with the mesosystemic relation between them, regarding the AAR. In spite of its labeled bioecological label, Bronfenbrenner's theory remains remarkably anthropocentric (Lee, 2012;Melson, 2003). The definition of proximal contexts and processes, as well as recent research using his model in school contexts (Jaeger, 2017), emphasize human-human and human-object interactions. ...
... In a literature review about psychological and physiological wellbeing in response to the exposure to natural landscapes and animal affiliation, Kahn (1997) remarked on children having an endless bond with nature, and noted that human-animal relationships can contribute to the understanding of Wilson's theory. Understanding children's development from this biocentric outlook is to take into account their relations with present animals, as well as humans (Melson, 2003). As significant others to the child, animals may promote a coherent construction of the self by being perceived as themselves coherent, reliable and authentic, while being decoupled from judgment roles and social pressure (Myers, 2007). ...
Full-text available
This article presents preliminary results of a longitudinal qualitative study of a small-sample trial of Animal Assisted Reading (AAR), designed to overcome reading difficulties of second grade children in an elementary school in Lisbon’s outskirts, through reading sessions to a “listening dog”. The AAR trial was carried out between October 2016 and June 2017. The article deals with findings concerning the participant schoolchildren’s, their parents’ and their teachers’ perceptions before and after the trial was run, framed by Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory of human development. I interviewed 12 subjects – five students, one parent of each of them, and two teachers – before and after the trial was run, in order to compare the children’s initial and final self-concept regarding reading to others, as well as the expectations they, their parents and teachers held and their final assessments of AAR. I did a descriptive qualitative analysis of interview transcripts to extract and compare the relevant data on these items. Initially, all students had negative self-concept regarding reading, and all but one tended to avoid the task of reading aloud to others. After AAR, all but one appreciated reading aloud without fearing exposure. The initial expectations of students, parents, and teachers about AAR were very high to begin with, and in the end all stated those expectations had been met, acknowledging further benefits besides reading improvement. The findings suggest AAR had a positive impact in both the school and the family microsystems of the children’s development.
... Η επαφή και η ενασχόληση των παιδιών προσχολικής ηλικίας με τη φροντίδα των ζώων είναι ένας τρόπος με τον οποίο προάγεται η σχέση αυτή, καθώς αναπτύσσουν μέσω αυτής της διαδικασίας ενσυναίσθηση απέναντι στα ζώα (Sobel, 1996). Τα ζώα αποτελούν αναπόσπαστο κομμάτι της καθημερινότητας των μικρών παιδιών, καθώς πραγματεύονται/μελετούν/μαθαίνουν συχνά έναν κόσμο, είτε φανταστικό είτε πραγματικό, γεμάτο με ζώα (Melson, 2003). Τα παιδιά ενδέχεται να ζουν με ζώα συντροφιάς (Νόμος 4039/2012, ΦΕΚ Α-15/02.02.2012, ...
... Δίνεται, δηλαδή, στην Ελλάδα, ήδη από την προσχολική ηλικία, ιδιαίτερη έμφαση στην ανάπτυξη των δεξιοτήτων των μικρών παιδιών μέσα από την ΠΕ εντός του Προγράμματος Σπουδών του νηπιαγωγείο. Επιπλέον, ερευνητές θεωρούν ότι τα ζώα συντροφιάς προσφέρουν συναισθηματική ανακούφιση στα παιδιά (Melson, 2003), ενώ η επεξεργασία θεμάτων για τα ζώα μέσα από προγράμματα στο νηπιαγωγείο συμβάλλει στο να κατανοήσουν τα μικρά παιδιά τις σχέσεις τους με αυτά (Δαφέρμου κ.ά., 2006). ...
According to the curriculum in Greece environmental education in preschool aims, among other things, to develop and cultivate animal welfare consciousness. In the present study we attempt: a) to present the structured activities of the educational program EV ZOON regarding the awareness of preschool children about animal welfare issues and b) to explore the axes on which early childhood teachers base the program’s effectiveness. Τhe program was implemented in four phases. In the fourth phase of the EV ZOON educational program, 21 out of the 135 early childhood teachers who ended up and evaluated the activities, implemented a series of 13 activities. The degree of implementation and the evaluation of the activities by the early childhood teachers were investigated after the end of the activities in a questionnaire that was administered electronically. The results were based on their evaluation of each activity separately on a question about its effectiveness on a Likert scale and on the qualitative analysis of a relevant open-ended question. The results showed that in their evaluation of the activities the early childhood teachers , emphasized: a) the enthusiasm of the students for the heroes of the program and the issues they discussed, b) the extent to which the activities managed to raise awareness about animal abuse, animal rights and cultivation of a sense of responsibility for them, and c) the means of implementation of the activities (duration, target group, etc.). Positive elements emerged for the activities of the program, but the respondents also noted points that made it difficult for teachers and students to implement the activities. Early childhood teachers’ evaluation of the activities of the educational program EV ZOON was a positive sign and contributed to their improvement.
... To date, research investigating humane education in early childhood or elementary education has focused on several important, but limited areas: (a) companion animals (Daly & Suggs, 2010;Jalongo, 2004Jalongo, , 2015Melson, 2003;Poresky, 1990), (b) empathy development (and companion animals) (Komoroski & O'Neil, 2015;Young et al., 2018), (c) animal-assisted programs (Arkow, 2010;McCardle et al., 2011), or (d) intervention for antisocial behaviors (Ascione, 2005;Faver, 2009;Mota-Rojas et al., 2022;Thompson & Gullone, 2003). Such investigations align with the historical understanding of humane education roots and its development as a tool for kindness and civility (Unti & DeRosa, 2003). ...
Full-text available
Early childhood education builds the foundation for students’ academic careers, but perhaps more importantly emphasizes developmentally appropriate practices that encourage social and emotional learning and prosocial behaviors. Similarly, humane education addresses students’ capacity for empathy, compassion, and perspective-taking through connecting the needs of humans, animals, and the environment. This paper describes the development of an emerging framework for humane education grounded in and evolving from Freire’s critical pedagogy and its alignment with Hirschi’s social control theory that sets the conditions for a humane classroom. Highlighting prosocial interactions and social cohesion, this article proposes logical outcomes and measures to move students from an anthropomorphic perspective to an ecocentric one where learners understand their role in this world and their ability to act within it. The result is a roadmap for teaching and learning that connects animal, planetary, and human needs within the crucial timeframe of early childhood development.
... The adolescents participated in the project voluntarily, ensuring that the motivation for being around horses was present. Involvement and motivation have an influence on the outcome of interventions with animals (Melson, 2003). The results in this study are only valid for adolescents motivated to participate in such activities. ...
Full-text available
Earlier studies have indicated that learning to handle a horse through tasks and activities can lead to a feeling of mastery which may have an impact on self-efficacy. The aim of this study was to examine how adolescents conducted horse-related tasks presented to them in an intervention in a farm environment, and whether there was a change during the intervention in persistence on tasks with the horse. Furthermore, we wanted to examine the behavior of the adolescents towards the horse and the response from the horse. Each participant was given an intervention once a week for approximately 16 weeks consisting of tasks with the horse, riding, grooming, and stable work. The sample presented in this study consisted of 29 participants who were successfully video-recorded in the beginning and at the end of the intervention. Petting the horse was the most frequent way of initiating contact with the horse, and the distributions of contact behaviors were the same at both time spots. The response of the horse was mainly neutral or positive. When participants did not succeed at their first attempt when trying to solve a horse-related task or an exercise during riding, their subsequent behavior was recorded as either trying again or not trying again. Early in the intervention, these two options were chosen with about the same frequency, while at the end of the intervention trying again was chosen significantly more often than not trying again. This was operationalized as an increase in persistence when having difficulties in solving tasks with the horse. The increased persistence late in the intervention in retrying tasks may indicate that the adolescents developed a feeling of mastery, which is an important factor in development of self-efficacy.
... The human-animal relationship can be perceived as simple and safe, reducing any potential harmful risk (Nebbe, 2001). In another study, children with companion animals reported receiving emotional support from their animals when human social support is limited (Melson, 2003). On the other side of attachment, attachment could result in an unattached relationship between human and animals. ...
As the population of individuals from minoritized ethnic background continues to grow in the United States, the relationship between humans and their companion animals can provide valuable information for human services professionals. Attachment to companion animals can play a significant part in clients’ emotional well-being, family dynamics, and quality of life. This study aimed to examine the associations between human attachment with companion animals and their educational training and attitudes about animals. Analysis revealed that relational attachment was significant among Latino students in the study, and particpants’ positive attitudes and beliefs about animals significantly predicted their level of attachment to companion animals. Participants also reported having diverse species of companion animals that demanded different responsibilities. Considerations to enhance service delivery and educational preparation of future human services professionals have implications for humane education and improved client outcomes.
... Pet-owner relationships can substitute for other social relationships, and the support from pets is comparable to the support received from other family members such as siblings, parents, and children (Bekker & Mallavarapu, 2019). Individuals often identify their pet as a member of their social network, which provides emotional support that further helps to cope with life changes and stress (Melson, 2003). Being considered as "close others" in owners' lives and nonjudgmental members of their social networks, pets provide owners with feelings of being cared for, loved, and valued (Horowitz, 2008;Nebbe, 2001). ...
Full-text available
Drawing on the transactional theory of stress, the current study investigates whether employee job insecurity triggers employee behavioral strain reactions (i.e., alcohol use, marijuana use, and cigarette use) and psychological strain reactions (i.e., emotional exhaustion and depression) through stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we integrate social support theory and expect the moderating role of pet attachment support in the above relationships. By collecting two-wave data from 187 employees with pets in the United States, we found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, stress mediated the relationships between job insecurity and predicted behavioral and psychological reactions. Moreover, pet attachment support buffered the relationships between stress and these behavioral and psychological strain reactions (all except cigarette use). Pet attachment support also alleviated the conditional indirect effects job insecurity had on the two types of strain reactions via stress. We discuss theoretical and practical implications of this study.
Have you ever picked up a stuffed toy and pretended to play with it in your childhood? We are motivated by the novel use of stuffed toys in enhancing extended reality interaction. A key goal of extended reality is to induce the feeling of presence in its users. Naturally mapped control interface has been shown to enhance presence. The literature also indicates that a high degree of freedom tracking is important to extended reality. Based on these observations, we show that a free-form naturally mapped control interface is well-motivated via a theoretical contextualization. We explore the possibility of building such a controller in the form of stuffed toys. To realize stuffed toys as controllers, a novel soft-pose estimator empowered by cage-based deformation is proposed. It is shown to be effective in tracking the poses and deformations of real soft objects even by training with synthetic data only. Three gameplay prototypes are developed to demonstrate that interactive play can be enabled by the soft-pose estimator. They also form the basis for two user studies that validate the success of tracking stuffed toys with the soft-pose estimator for interactive play.
Full-text available
Bumper stickers reading "Friends can be good medicine!" were distributed by the California Department of Mental Health in 1981 as part of a statewide health promotion initiative (California Department of Mental Health, 1981). The objectives of the initiative were to increase awareness of the health-promoting influence of supportive relationships and to encourage personal involvement providing support to others. Although the ultimate success of this project is unknown, its implementation reflects the degree to which a link between social support and health has become part of our belief system. Correlations between social support and health outcomes have been found in a range of contexts and using a variety of methods (for recent reviews, see Broadhead et al. Although links between social support and health are consistently found, our understanding of the nature of this relation remains limited. A problem in past research was that social support was conceptualized unidimensionally, although it was operationalized in many different ways (e.g., marital status, community involvement, availability of confidants). More recent efforts have analyzed social support into component functions. Theorists differ somewhat with respect to the specific functions served by social support, but most conceptualizations include emotional sustenance, self-esteem building, provision of information and feedback, and tangible assistance (e.g.. Once support is defined in terms of its functions, it is possible to generate hypotheses concerning the psychological processes through which social support has its effects. Although clear theoretical formulations of the helping functions served by relationships arc crucial in the generation of hypotheses, these predictions cannot be empirically tested without appropriate assessment instruments. As described in House and Kahn's (1985) recent review, a number of social support measures have been developed. The measures differ widely in their implicit models of social support, some assessing number of supporters, others tapping frequency of supportive acts, and still others measuring degree of satisfaction with support. A number of problems have plagued these measurement efforts. At the theoretical level, the authors of social support measures have rarely articulated the assumptions underlying their instruments. For example, if a measure assesses the number of supportive individuals, the assumption is that better outcomes are associated with the quantity of support sources. If a measure taps satisfaction with support, the assumption is that better outcomes are associated with the perception that support is adequate for one's needs, regardless of tile number of supporters. Although these differences are rarely articulated, different research questions are posed and answered as a function of the manner in which social support is assessed. Inconsistencies in the literature nay be related to differences in the aspects of social support that are assessed in different studies (see Cohen & Wills, 1985).
250 infants, 25 boys and 25 girls each in the 6-, 12-, 18-, 24-, and 30-mo. age groups, were individually observed with a mechanical toy dog which barked and moved realistically, a contact-comfort mechanical cat which purred and meowed when hugged and petted, and the family dog(s) and/or cat(s), presented in random order. An investigator-generated checklist of proximity-seeking and contact-promoting behaviors was used to record subject responses demonstrating whether the infants attached to pets because of tactual qualities, sounds, movement, familiarity, and/or behavioral qualities. It was hypothesized that as babies age, their responses to the live pet and toy animals would become progressively dissimilar and that older infants would show significantly more attachment behaviors and would spend significantly more time observing and interacting with live pets than with toy animals. Data support the hypotheses and indicate significant differences in the quantity of attachment behaviors toward live pets and toy animals at one year. From one year on, dogs are significantly preferred to cats by both sexes. During the first year, boys show significantly more attachment behaviors than girls; the two sexes are equal at 18 mo., and girls show significantly mote attachment behaviors than boys at 24 and 30 mo.
Reviews One Boy's Day: A Specimen Record of Behavior (see record 1951-07962-000) by Roger G. Barker and Herbert F. Wright. The reviewer notes that this book contains a record of 14 hours of consecutive observation of a seven-year-old, Midwestern, small-town boy, at home, at school, and at play. Each of eight observers recorded in one-minute intervals the objective behavior of Raymond Birch in his natural habitat and interpretive comments regarding that behavior. The theoretical framework within which the observations were collected is not included in this volume. One Boy's Day contains, in effect, only raw data. Therefore the reviewer concludes that it cannot really be evaluated and it is unfortunate that the authors did not enlarge the volume to include their formulation of the meaning and task of psychological ecology. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
Using a multi-dimensional, multi-measure approach, this study examined children's attachment to their pets and related three dimensions of such attachment—behavioral, affective and cognitive—to empathy and perceived competence. Child characteristics (age, sex), family characteristics (marital status, socioeconomic status, maternal employment and family size) and pet type (dog, cat) as influences on attachment to pets also were explored. Individual interviews were conducted with 120 children from kindergarten, second-and fifth-grades, and questionnaire responses were collected from one parent of each child. Pet attachment was higher for older children and those whose mothers were employed. Pet attachment related differently to empathy and perceived competence depending upon grade level.