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Student’s Best Friend: Study shows dogs can significantly alleviate student stress

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Furry friends have long been used in mental health facilities and care homes to alleviate stress and boost happiness but how much do they help people and do they actually have a positive impact? 

With ‘doggy de-stress’ sessions on university campus’ rapidly growing in popularity, the University of British Colombia department of psychology carried out a study to investigate the short-term effects of one single canine therapy session on the well-being of students.

In total 246 participants took part in the University of British Colombia's experiment which saw partcipants taking part in a dog therapy session, cuddling and petting a group of pooches.  Participants filled out a questionnaire before the therapy session, immediately after it, and 10 hours later.

The students who took part in the study recorded significantly increased levels of happiness, energy and life satisfaction in the study's questionnaire minutes after interacting with the furry friends. 

More surprisingly, the study also found that “even ten hours later, students still reported feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session”.

The study’s lead author, and researcher at UBC department of psychology Emma Ward-Griffin said: "findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on university students."

Despite previous studies suggesting that pet therapy sessions were more effective on females than males, the UBC dogs fetched equally positive reactions from participants regardless of their gender. 

With student mental health services in higher demand now than ever before, the study informally prescribes pets as a short term remedy for stress related anxieties. Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and psychology assistant professor said: “we think universities should try to schedule them during particularly stressful times, such as around exam periods."

Some British universities already hold pet therapy sessions, including Leeds University Union who organised one for students during mental health week 2017 and The University of Sussex who have held four sessions over the past few months. 

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