Man’s best friend can also help a kid out in trying times. A study published in Social Development found that kids coped with stressful situations better when they had their pet dogs with them.

Researchers from the University of Florida recruited about 100 dog-owning families with kids between the ages of 7 and 12 years old to come to their lab. The kids were put through public speaking and math tasks (situations known to stress out any kid — or adult for that matter) with either their parent or dog present or no social support at all. The researchers asked the kids about their stress levels before and after the task and took pre- and post-task saliva samples to measure the their cortisol levels.

“Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support,” lead study author Darlene Kertes, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at UF, said in a press release about the findings.

Interestingly, the kids’ cortisol levels depended on the way they interacted with their dog during the tasks. The more the kids petted their furry pal, the better they fared. “Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less,” Kertes said. “When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”

These findings add to existing research showing how animals can benefit our well-being, from reducing feelings of anxiety and loneliness to lowering your risk of heart disease. The fact that they could be used to lower stress in kids is particularly noteworthy because, as Kertes said in the press release, “How we learn to deal with stress as children has lifelong consequences for how we cope with stress as adults.” The next time you’re feeling on-edge, remember that calm could be one puppy playdate away.

Read more about the findings here.

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