KELOWNA, British Columbia – Therapy dogs (and other animals too) have been helping patients for years. While it’s great to have a furry companion during rehabilitation, does petting a dog have any real health benefits? According to researchers in Canada, it really does exist. A team from the University of British Columbia reports that petting and cuddling with a therapy dog significantly increases their wellbeing.
“There have been a number of studies that have shown that dog-assisted interventions significantly improve participant wellbeing, but little research has been done on which interactions are most beneficial,” says Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, Associate Professor in the School of Education and Head of the Building Academic Retention Through K-9s (BARK) program, in a university announcement. “We know there is a benefit in spending time with therapy dogs, but we didn’t know why.”
The study authors gathered 284 college students to help them with this project. They then randomly assigned each student to one of three groups. One group was able to interact with a therapy dog, but without touch. Another could both interact and touch his therapy dog and a third group met with a handler and no puppy at all.
Before starting, each student completed a survey about their general wellbeing. These assessments included questions about social connectedness, happiness, integration into the campus community, stress, homesickness, loneliness, positive and negative affect, and “self-perception of thriving”.
The fear of COVID. throw it away
While students assigned to the “interacting but not touching” group showed notable improvements in various measures of wellbeing, the group actually allowed to touch their therapy dogs achieved the most benefits. The petting group was the only one of the three that showed great improvements in all wellbeing factors.
“As students may return to face-to-face classes on their college campus this fall looking for ways to keep their stress levels at bay, I encourage them to take advantage of the therapy dog visiting program on offer. And when you get there, be sure to take the time to cuddle up with your dog, ”explains Dr. Binfet. “It’s a surefire way to relieve stress.”
Many students, parents, and teachers at all grade levels have recently feared returning to face-to-face learning. This work suggests that for schools of all types it can be a good idea to have a few dog hall monitors on-demand to welcome everyone back.
“When therapy dogs are brought onto campus, program organizers need to consider the dog-to-student ratio. Our research shows us that touch interaction is key to reducing student stress, so program administrators must be careful to offer programs that make this possible, ”concludes Dr. Binfet.
The study appears in the journal Anthrozoös.