Campus Therapy Dog Study Proves Pups Reduce Stress, Increase Joy
When Marjory Stoneman Douglas students returned to their school two weeks after a mass shooting, they were greeted by a fleet of golden retrievers offering affection and wet kisses. As part of the LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, these dogs were part of a larger group of pups trained to help people in times of need. It’s extremely likely that bringing these dogs to the students brought quantifiable happiness: According to a study released Monday, therapy dog sessions boost wellness while increasing happiness and energy.
This study, published in the journal Stress and Health, specifically focused on the effect of therapy dogs on stressed out university students. Researchers surveyed 246 students as they were tasked with the adorable job of petting and chatting with canine companions. The lucky students were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing the state of their emotions before and after the cuddle session, and then again 10 hours later. The results, the study authors announced in a statement released Monday, were “remarkable.”
“We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stress, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session,” explained co-author and University of British Columbia psychology professor emeritus, Stanley Coren, Ph.D.
Both male and female students reported equal puppy-induced reductions in stress and feelings of happiness. These effects were strongest immediately after the session but were still evident ten hours after the session. Lead author and UBC research assistant Emma-Ward Griffin, Ph.D. explained in a statement that these findings reveal that even a single drop-in therapy dog session can have a “measurable, positive effect” on humans. She and her co-authors encourage universities to schedule dog visits to campus during particularly stressful times, like exam periods.
This study is part of a long series of findings that have linked dogs to increased well-being: Since the 1980s, scientists have confirmed the massive goodness of dogs, evidenced in their ability to lower our blood pressure, reduce depression, and bring a sense of comfort when friends and family cannot.
The reason dogs make people feel warm and fuzzy is likely an effect of the inherent, inherited qualities of the dogs themselves. In July 2017, scientists discovered that dog genes make them especially open to domestication and hypersocial behavior. Genetic mutations have left them in a state of childlike social and cognitive development, causing dogs to happily seek out and receive physical contact and attention. In turn, other studies have found that dogs can correctly match facial expressions to tone at least 67 percent of the time — meaning that, if you need a hug, a dog will recognize it and is ready to do the job.
Like this article? Then you’ll like this video explaining why your brain boinks out when you meet a puppy: