Petting away pre-exam stress: The effect of therapy dog sessions on student well-being

Emma Ward-Griffin, Patrick Klaiber, Hanne K. Collins, Rhea L. Owens, Stanley Coren, Frances S. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations

Abstract

Recently, many universities have implemented programmes in which therapy dogs and their handlers visit college campuses. Despite the immense popularity of therapy dog sessions, few randomized studies have empirically tested the efficacy of such programmes. The present study evaluates the efficacy of such a therapy dog programme in improving the well-being of university students. This research incorporates two components: (a) a pre/post within-subjects design, in which 246 participants completed a brief questionnaire immediately before and after a therapy dog session and (b) an experimental design with a delayed-treatment control group, in which all participants completed baseline measures and follow-up measures approximately 10 hr later. Only participants in the experimental condition experienced the therapy dog session in between the baseline and follow-up measures. Analyses of pre/post data revealed that the therapy dog sessions had strong immediate benefits, significantly reducing stress and increasing happiness and energy levels. In addition, participants in the experimental group reported a greater improvement in negative affect, perceived social support, and perceived stress compared with those in the delayed-treatment control group. Our results suggest that single, drop-in, therapy dog sessions have large and immediate effects on students' well-being, but also that the effects after several hours are small.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-473
Number of pages6
JournalStress and Health
Volume34
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a grant (430‐2015‐00412) from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We thank Quille Kaddon and Vancouver ecoVillage for organizing and coordinating the therapy dog sessions and making this study possible. A special thank you to all the Vancouver ecoVillage therapy dog handlers and their canine companions for volunteering their time. We gratefully acknowledge the University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society for providing space for the sessions and for helping us to advertise the study, and the instructors who allowed us to recruit students from their classes. Finally, we thank Nandini Maharaj, Kiana Maeda, Sara Ahmadian, Sarah Woolgar, Parky Lau, and the entire research team for assistance with data collection, contacting participants, and ensuring the therapy dog sessions ran smoothly.

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a grant (430-2015-00412) from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We thank Quille Kaddon and Vancouver ecoVillage for organizing and coordinating the therapy dog sessions and making this study possible. A special thank you to all the Vancouver ecoVillage therapy dog handlers and their canine companions for volunteering their time. We gratefully acknowledge the University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society for providing space for the sessions and for helping us to advertise the study, and the instructors who allowed us to recruit students from their classes. Finally, we thank Nandini Maharaj, Kiana Maeda, Sara Ahmadian, Sarah Woolgar, Parky Lau, and the entire research team for assistance with data collection, contacting participants, and ensuring the therapy dog sessions ran smoothly.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords

  • animal-assisted stress reduction
  • social support
  • university students
  • well-being

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