Dogs as college therapists are on the rise in North America; study finds they help stressed out students feel better

Therapy dogs are popular when used to provide assistance and comfort to children, patients, and seniors. But there are also universities that have implemented programs wherein therapy dogs and their handlers visit campuses — although the efficacy of such programs has not been well-documented. One study, published in the journal Stress and Health, evaluated the effectiveness of therapy dog sessions in managing the stress levels of university students and improving their overall well-being.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) analyzed data from a total of 246 students who answered a brief questionnaire immediately before and after they went to a drop-in therapy dog session. The students were allowed to interact with several canine companions during the sessions. The students filled out questionnaires again approximately 10 hours later.

The participants in the experimental group reported strong immediate benefits, such as a decrease in stress levels, and an increase in happiness and energy levels, compared to the control group who did not participate in a therapy dog session. The feelings of happiness and satisfaction appeared to be short-lived, but some of the effects were found to linger on several hours after the experiment.

“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,” said Stanley Coren, study co-author and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UBC.

With these positive effects in mind, the researchers encourage universities to offer their students a set schedule to attend a therapy dog session during a particularly stressful time, such as exam periods. Frances Chen, senior author and Assistant Professor of Psychology at UBC, even suggested having therapy dogs around the students while they are working on their out-of-class assignments.

“Our findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on the well-being of university students, particularly on stress reduction and feelings of negativity,” said lead author and research assistant in the UBC Department of Psychology, Emma Ward-Griffin.

Best therapy dog breeds

Every dog is a great companion, but some canine breeds are specially trained to assist people in specific ways, such as providing comfort and affection to individuals in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other areas. Some therapy dogs also work with children with autism and learning disabilities. shares a list of some of the best therapy dog breeds.

  • The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular breeds in the U.S. They make for great therapy dogs due to their intelligence and gentle demeanor. Labs take well to new people and they are very obedient when properly trained.
  • The German Shepherd is mostly trained as police and military dogs, but their keen intelligence makes them easily trainable for a variety of purposes, including being a therapy dog.
  • The Saint Bernard is particularly popular as a therapy dog for children due to their thick, fluffy coats, as well as their exceptional patience with kids that tend to pull at their tail or fur.
  • The Pomeranian is a very small breed often favored by seniors as house companions, as they require relatively little exercise and enjoy cuddling indoors.
  • The Pug is a small breed with lots of energy and loves to please people. Pugs work particularly well with children suffering neurodevelopment disorders like autism.

Do you have your own therapy dog? Visit to find out ways to properly take care of your best friend, naturally.

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