Dogs are popular visitors in hospitals and senior centers, but now another group is reaping the benefits of some snuggle time with a furry friend — college students.
Universities in the U.S. and Canada have started bringing in therapy dogs to help their students cope with the intense stresses of college life. Studies have shown that pets can alleviate depression, reduce anxiety, and decrease levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and provide some real benefits for university students.
The latest school to take advantage of the most adorable stress relief technique is Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. From December 4 through 6, Dalhousie will set up a “Puppy Room,” where they will welcome therapy dogs from volunteer group Therapeutic Paws of Canada.
Dalhousie Vice President of Student Life, Gavin Jardine, thinks that bringing in a few furry reinforcements will help students cope with the added stress of finals week.
“Mental health is a very serious issue that we’re trying to respond to on campus,” Jardine explains. “We thought this could be a very fun, cheap way of addressing that.”
Word of the campus “Puppy Room” spread quickly, and the school has been receiving very positive responses from their students.
“My major paper is due at 4 p.m. on the 4th…I will beeline it to the Puppy Room,” Dalhousie student Jimmy Tennant wrote on the university’s Dalhousie Student Union Facebook page.
Dalhousie students that cannot make it to the designated “Puppy Room” visiting hours can also opt for a free off-campus trip to the nearby SPCA, where staff and volunteers will be waiting to greet them with a dog to walk or a kitten to cuddle.
Other North American universities have taken note and are starting to include canines in their student programs as well. McGill University in Québec brought in some four-legged friends from the Therapeutic Paws of Canada to help students relax during exam week (see video). Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University offered a similar service last year, with students lining up for the chance to pet a dog. Kent State University in Ohio has even established its own pet therapy program, called Dogs on Campus, to help students and staff cope with stress, grief, or homesickness.
“Just petting a dog will decrease your blood pressure and relieve anxiety,” said University of Ottawa Human Kinetics professor Audrey Giles. “You can be affectionate with them and they’ll be affectionate back. They love attention.”
Giles and her 8-year-old Border Collie mix, Tundra, hold office hours at the University of Ottawa every two weeks. Stressed students can sign up to visit Tundra, rub her belly and have the certified therapy dog perform tricks for treats. The first day that the pair took appointments from students, Giles says about 20 showed up. But as news of Tundra’s services spread around campus, it was clear that she was quite the popular pooch. Nearly 60 students signed up to meet her during her second session two weeks later.
Tundra benefits from the students’ visits, too, Giles told The Toronto Star. “It’s fabulous because Tundra is a dog who can’t possibly get enough attention,” Giles explains.
“A lot of students are away from home when they go away to university and they often leave beloved pets behind,” said Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Toronto Law School, Alexis Archibold. The law school allowed students and staff to bring their dogs to school during finals week last spring. “For a good portion of students, they’re so excited to spend time with a pet. They’re pet-starved,” Archibold added.