Therapy Dogs As The Best Tool For Stressed University Students

  • 05/11/2018

Being a college student is a very stressful experience, completely opposite to what everyone’s saying about it. Personally, I can hardly call it the happiest time of my life. Rather, it was filled with a lot of stress, tons of homework, sleepless nights and me constantly running out of time and missing deadlines.

I’ve recently heard about a relatively new tendency in education: colleges and universities employ therapy dogs to help students relieve stress and cope with difficult situations. The University of South Carolina has a therapy puppy called Indy that actually works regular hours and is always ready to welcome stressed-out students and help them unwind.

The University of British Columbia actually did an in-depth research on how therapy dogs can be a tool for stress-relief on a campus. 246 students spent time having a session with a therapy dog, after which they filled out several questionnaires. The last questionnaire they filled out has shown that they felt less stressed, experienced positive emotions and in general got a lot of support from spending some time with a therapy dog.

Being a former psychology student, I got interested in this trend myself, so I started diving into the subject. And here’s what I figured out about therapy dogs as the best tool for stressed university students.  

Therapy Dogs vs. Service Dogs

Therapy dogs should be differentiated from service dogs. Service dogs only serve one owner and exclude everyone else, while therapy dogs do not serve one particular person and can be “buddies for everyone”.  

What’s the Purpose of a Therapy Dog?

Under the direction of their owner, therapy dogs exist to react to the environment of the people they contact with. They are extremely sensitive, thus they often become a part of a so-called animal-assisted therapy. Such therapy sessions are aimed at improving a person’s emotional, cognitive and social functions. Such animal-assisted activities are very beneficial to a person’s mental health.

Special Human-Animal Bond

Having a session with a therapy dog create a special human-animal bond. According to a study, human-dog interactions can decrease cortisol levels and contribute to increasing the level of oxytocin, a hormone that increases positivity and trust.

By creating a positive and trustworthy atmosphere, human-dog interactions can contribute to building self-esteem and confidence. Students, who had a stressful experience with writing research papers have reported that they felt more confident and at peace when they returned to writing their papers after dog therapy sessions.

How Can Students Benefit from Dog Therapy?

Having occasional meetings with a therapy dog can benefit a college or university student a lot. On-campus therapy dogs can help with:

  • improving interpersonal skills, contribute to better communication skills as well as develop empathy;
  • building contacts and rapport with other people, which can be very beneficial for future career and professional communication;
  • understanding human behaviour better, which definitely can help improve interpersonal relationships.

Meeting a therapy dog on a regular basis can help students also become calmer and more confident when having difficult conversations, which can also help them deal with stressful situations.

How Can Universities Benefit from Dog Therapy?

Dog therapy is not only beneficial for students. Universities also get a lot of benefits from having an on-campus therapy dog, including:

  • Better school attendance. According to a study done by St. Catherine University, dog-assisted therapy improves school attendance as students become more excited about studying.
  • Better educator-student interaction. Students become more responsible and eager to collaborate with teachers. They also become more responsive.
  • Decreased learner anxiety. Many students, especially during the adaptation period, have a so-called learner anxiety when it becomes hard to perceive information because of the pressure they have to deal with. Dog therapy can help relieve this stress, which also benefits a student’s attendance.
  • Increased motivation to participate in different university activities and to contribute to the life on campus.
  • Better relationship with the peers. Regular dog therapy can help build trust among the peers and also help students learn how to express their feelings.

Dog Therapy is Definitely the Best Tool for Stressed Students

In general, therapy dogs are a great tool to help relieve stress, not just for students. We deal with lots of stressful situations, and having a puppy around that you can pet or hug can really help you unwind.

But having such therapy sessions is very important for university students as well because college is the time when they enter adulthood and have to make a lot of adult decisions, which is quite stressful.

Sadly, not all students can access therapy dogs. This kind of therapy is usually provided by certain volunteer organizations, as universities sometimes don’t have funds to have on-campus therapy dogs. Having a therapy dog also requires having a professional who will assist during such sessions to help students benefit from these interactions more.

I truly hope that this trend keeps developing. Students deserve having such an activity on campus, as they can benefit from it a lot.

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