Colleges Can Reduce Stress Among Students With Therapy Dogs

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Therapy dogs available to stressed university students have become more popular and prevalent in many North American colleges in recent years, and now there’s good reason other academic institutions may want to follow the bandwagon. A recent study by the University of British Columbia shows that therapy dogs are an effective way to help bring much-needed relief to our often-stressed student bodies.

“Therapy dog sessions are becoming more popular on university campuses, but there has been surprisingly little research on how much attending a single drop-in therapy dog session actually helps students,” notes Emma Ward-Griffin, lead author and research assistant in the UBC department of Psychology, in a release.

Researchers surveyed 246 college students at UBC before and after going to a dog therapy session. In each session, students were able to pet, cuddle, and chat with their choice of up to 12 therapy dogs. Students in the study were asked to fill out questionnaires before and after their sessions, and another questionnaire 10 hours after their session.

Participants consistently reported significant stress reductions and increased levels of happiness and energy immediately following each session. Even in their follow-up assessments, students still felt lower levels of stress.

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“The results were remarkable,” says Stanley Coren, study co-author and professor emeritus of psychology at UBC. “We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session.”

Previous research suggested that female students benefit more from these sessions, but in the UBC study, there was little difference in effectiveness between genders.

The authors hope the study will encourage other universities to launch similar programs that could ultimately help students perform better on exams or feel more supported when battling personal issues.

“These sessions clearly provide benefits for students in the short-term, so we think universities should try to schedule them during particularly stressful times, such as around exam periods,” says Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at UBC. “Even having therapy dogs around while students are working on their out-of-class assignments could be helpful.”

The study was published on March 12, 2018 in the journal Stress and Health.