Therapy dogs really do make college students happier - study
They bring joy to students. But what about these dogs' feelings? Source: Shutterstock

They’re the furry stressbusters popping up on campuses everywhere.

We know we have fun with these canines, and now a new Canadian study has confirmed what we already suspect: You can really pet away pre‐exam stress.

While these animal-assisted stress reduction programs are immensely popular in universities, Emma Ward-Griffin from the University of British Columbia and her colleagues wanted to empirically find out how effective these programs are to students’ well-being.

More than 200 students were enlisted to take part in the study, where students could drop-in to a therapy dog session where they could pet, cuddle, and interact with 7-to-12 dogs

Unsurprisingly, they found that therapy dog sessions had “strong immediate benefits, significantly reducing stress and increasing happiness and energy levels” right after the sessions. Although those feelings of happiness and life satisfaction didn’t last for 10 hours, other feelings did.

Participants in the sessions also reported “greater improvement in negative affect, perceived social support, and perceived stress” compared with those who did not participate.

Both genders experienced the benefits equally according to the study.

As these pets become a more common occurrence on campuses, academics at the annual conference of the British Sociological Association raised this question: are the dogs taking part pets or workers?

“They are working,” Nickie Charles, director of the University of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of Women and Gender said, as reported by Times Higher Education.

Charles and Carol Wolkowitz, reader in the institution’s sociology department observed and interviewed dog owners, students and library staff during these canine visits.

“[The dogs] have to behave in a particular way, which involves work and effort. They are really tired at the end of it.”

It pays to understand this from both the dogs’ point of view as well as students’ as it lets us see a “more multi-faceted understanding of the interaction that’s taking place,” Charles argued.

We should think “more carefully” about the approach that says animals are just there for humans to use and put to work as we deem fit, she said.

“Societies wouldn’t be the way they are if animals were not part of them – and sociologists for a long time completely ignored that,” Charles said.

“I think it’s important to understand the contribution animals make to fully understand what society is about.”

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