The mental health benefits associated with owning or even just playing with dogs are pretty well known. So a new study published in the journal Stress and Health confirms something many of us know intuitively: Therapy dogs actually work, especially for college students dealing with stress or anxiety. We’re guessing the finding is making many pup-loving college grads — who were never allowed to have dogs in their dorm rooms — say “duh.”
Therapy dogs can be helpful in treating people with mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. According to Psychiatry.org, some mental health benefits associated with the use of therapy dogs include decreased anxiety, an increased sense of comfort and safety, reduced loneliness, and enhanced self-esteem and confidence for the patient.
Because of those factors, more and more universities have been providing their students with therapy dog sessions in order to help reduce stress levels and up their overall sense of wellbeing.
Despite its increasing popularity, though, researchers from the University of British Columbia say there’s very little research on the effectiveness of therapy dogs for college students. So they conducted a study of 246 students who utilized their campus therapy dog service. Students were surveyed before their drop-in therapy session, immediately after, and again 10 hours later. Researchers also had a control group of students who did not attend any therapy dog sessions.
To no one’s surprise, students who cuddled and played with the dogs reported “significant reductions” in stress levels immediately after the session was done. They were also much happier and more energetic post-therapy session in comparison to students in the control group.
“The results were remarkable,” Stanley Coren, co-author of the study and professor emeritus of psychology at UBC, told Science Daily. “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.”
Sadly, feelings of happiness and “life satisfaction” did not appear to last. Meaning, students weren’t necessarily any happier about their lives the next day. However, the study’s authors believe therapy sessions can still be pretty beneficial for students, especially during midterms or finals.
There are many great ways to deal with stress. If you’re a dog lover who’s in college and going through a stressful time, see if your school offers any therapy sessions with dogs. As this study confirms, it does work, even for a short period of time.