Are you a distressed student? Here’s how therapy dogs can help – Philippine Canadian Inquirer

Pets, and dogs in particular, provide a non-judgmental source of support and companionship, and being around them makes us feel better. (photo Pexels)

For those of us fortunate enough to have canine companions in our lives, the way we interact with them can impact our well-being. The research results align with what many people already knew intuitively about the benefits of sharing life with a pet. Pets, and dogs in particular, provide a non-judgmental source of support and companionship, and being around them makes us feel better.

Several studies have supported the offer of dog-assisted interventions to reduce student stress. On-campus dog stress reduction programs, like the University of British Columbia’s BARK program, are a popular approach to providing students with the opportunity to spend time with therapy dogs to enhance their well-being. .

While we knew spending time with therapy dogs was beneficial, little was known about how these interactions made people feel better. My research team, consisting of Freya Green, coordinator of the BARK program and doctoral student Zakary Draper, looked at the best way to interact with dogs in our lives.

Read more: Canine therapy: what I learned from supervising 60 canine teams on campus

Proximity matters

students stroke therapy dog
On-campus therapy dog ​​programs can help alleviate student stress, especially during exam time.
(Adam Lauzé Photography), Author provided

To distinguish between the effects of interacting with touch therapy dogs, we randomly assigned 284 undergraduates to one of three conditions: direct contact and touch therapy dog; be next to a therapy dog ​​without touching it; and a control condition in which there was a dog handler but no dog.

Precautions were taken in all settings to ensure that interventions were delivered as intended. This included measuring the distance between the dog and the handler and the distance between participating students. Following animal welfare standards, the welfare of the therapy dogs in this study was monitored during each session for any signs of distress – none were reported.

To measure the impact of these different 20-minute sessions, participants were asked to complete measures before and after the visit that captured their self-evaluations, both positive (fulfillment, happiness, social ties) and negative (stress, loneliness, homesickness). dimension of well-being.

Oddly enough, the results revealed that participants in both dog conditions saw significant reductions in their stress, loneliness, and negative effects. We could interpret this to mean that even being around a dog can reduce some of our negative feelings.

The main finding of the study was that participants who were able to interact directly with the dogs experienced significant changes before and after the test in all measurements. Additionally, when the direct contact condition was analyzed versus the non-contact condition, participants reported significantly greater reductions in stress, homesickness, loneliness, and negative affects. They also reported significantly greater improvements in positive affect, social connections, and subjective happiness.

In short, spending time petting and scratching a therapy dog ​​significantly improved the well-being of participants, especially compared to just being around a dog.

Touch therapy

The results of this study have implications for student support services or campus health workers who strive to provide opportunities for students to reduce stress.

Stress reduction events are often held during final exams, but it is really managing stress during the semester that is the key to avoiding the build-up of debilitating stress levels.

Increasingly, researchers have recognized that being a student is a stressful experience. The pupils, in particular the first year pupils who escape the vigilance of their parents for the first time, must adapt to new academic expectations and to the challenges linked to collective housing.

Additionally, new friendships and social support networks need to be established and nurtured as students find and build their community on campus.

Added to these challenges is the fact that students are, on the whole, reluctant help seekers; they often avoid formal resources and opportunities to support their mental health.

Support students

On-campus dog stress reduction programs are what we would call a low barrier resource, as they typically don’t require students to make an appointment. These programs are not intended as a primary mental health intervention, but rather as a resource that can help redirect students to other sources of support.

Whether you have a dog lying at your feet as you read this or need to look for opportunities to hang out with dogs, know that the way you interact with dogs can have an impact on how you feel. Take the time to scratch the dogs behind the ears, rub the belly, and make sure you interact with the dogs through touch. You will leave feeling better. And besides, this feeling will probably be shared by your canine companion!The conversation

John-Tyler Binfet, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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