Give university students dogs to cuddle during stressful exam periods, say experts

Sarah Knapton
Therapy dogs boost students happiness levels and lower stress  - University of British Columbia 

Providing university students with dogs during exams would help lower stress levels and help them do their best in tests, a new study has concluded.

Some institutions in Britain have already welcomed therapy dogs on to their campuses, including Leeds City College, which last week unveiled its 12-week-old cockapoo puppy called Jeffrey.

But it was unclear if the animals were actually doing any good.

Now a study by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver,  has found that when students are allowed to pay with and cuddle therapy dogs their stress levels plummet, and energy and happiness increase.

They suggest the dogs should be brought in during exam times to help teenagers cope with the pressure.

“The results were remarkable,” said Dr 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.”

Come British colleges have already welcomed dogs  Credit: University of British Columbia 

In the study published today in the journal Stress and Health, researchers surveyed 246 students before and after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session.

Students were free to pet, cuddle and chat with up to 12 canine companions during the sessions and also filled out questionnaires immediately before and after the session, and again about 10 hours later.

Researchers found that stress levels dropped by around 45 per cent, energy increased by roughly 37 per cent and happiness by 27 per cent.

“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,” said Assistant Professor of Psychology Frances Chen.

“Even having therapy dogs around while students are working on their out-of-class assignments could be helpful.”

Dogs could be brought in during stressful periods, like exam time, say experts 

While previous research suggested female students most the new findings show the dogs benefit men as much as women.

“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,” said Emma Ward-Griffin, the study’s lead author and research assistant in the UBC department of psychology.

“Our findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on the wellbeing of university students, particularly on stress reduction and feelings of negativity.”