It’s no wonder that petting dogs and just being in their presence can do wonders for our health.
In fact, new research confirms what many psychotherapists suspected early on. Pet therapy works. And for college students in particular, petting dogs can dramatically lower levels of stress.
A Washington State University study found that stressed-out students performed better academically after petting therapy dogs. Programs focused on reducing stress with therapy dogs improved students’ thinking and planning skills more than traditional stress management techniques.
The study appears in the May 12 issue of the journal AERA open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Association for Educational Research. The research showed that stressed college students had improved cognitive function even six weeks after the study ended. The program lasted four weeks.
“It’s a really powerful finding,” said Patricia Pendry, associate professor in the WSU Department of Human Development. “Universities are doing a great job trying to help students succeed academically, especially those who may be at risk due to a history of mental health problems or academic and learning problems. This study shows that traditional stress management approaches are not as effective for this population compared to programs that focus on providing opportunities to interact with therapy dogs. “
Study showing how petting dogs can lower stress in college students
First, the research team measured executive functioning in 309 students who participated in the study. Executive function includes the set of mental skills that a person needs to plan, organize, motivate, focus, and memorize. Pendry says that to be successful in college, any student requires these “great cognitive skills.”
This study serves as a follow-up to previous research by Pendry. In the study, he found that just ten minutes of petting animals resulted in positive physiological effects. Petting and interacting with animals appeared to reduce stress for the students, at least temporarily.
The study lasted three years and involved students who participated in one of three academic stress management programs. They presented various combinations of human-animal interaction and academic, science-backed stress management methods. Palouse Paws, a local affiliate of Pet Partners, a national organization with more than 10,000 therapy teams, provided the volunteer dogs and handlers.
“The results were very solid. We saw that the students who were at higher risk ended up having more improvements in executive functioning in the human-animal interaction condition. These results were maintained when we followed up six weeks later. “
Many universities around the world, including WSU, have provided stress management resources and workshops for students. The programs typically involve listening to an expert, viewing slide shows, and taking notes, such as at a college lecture. These are typically evidence-based courses that provide students with tips and advice on sleep hygiene, goal setting, and stress management techniques. While they provide useful information, studies have shown that they are not always effective.
“These are really important topics, and these workshops are helping typical students succeed by teaching them how to manage stress,” Pendry said. “Interestingly, however, our findings suggest that these types of educational workshops are less effective for struggling students. It seems that students can experience these programs as one more lesson, which is exactly what makes students feel stressed. “
Increased stress and mental disorders in college students indicate the need for intervention.
Petting dogs helps because of the human-animal interaction, which allows stressed students relax. Even if students are thinking or talking about their stressors, being around animals creates a calming effect. It helps them cope with the stress in their life instead of feeling overwhelmed or defeated. Pendry says it improves their ability to think, set goals, focus, and retain information when students are relaxed.
“If you are stressed, you cannot think or capture information; Learning about stress is stressful! ” she said.
Of course, petting dogs doesn’t eliminate stressors. It simply provides students with support and comfort, providing a healthy outlet for their anxiety or stress. Being around animals also encourages them to stay positive and motivated to achieve their goals.
“You can’t learn math just by being relaxed,” Pendry said. “But when looking for the ability to study, participate, focus and take a test, having the animal look is very powerful. Being calm is helpful for learning, especially for those who struggle with stress and learning. “
WALTHAM’s Collaborative Human-Animal Interaction Research Program provided a grant to help fund this study.
Other benefits of petting or being around dogs
In addition to reducing stress, dogs provide many other benefits to increase our well-being. Here are just a few:
- Give us company
- Helps relieve feelings of loneliness / isolation.
- It can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Give us unconditional love
- Help improve our sleep quality
- Provide physical warmth on cold winter days.
- It gives a feeling of security and protection, especially if you live alone.
- Improve health as they need regular walks or runs outdoors.
It is clear that dogs improve life because they provide us with support and love no matter what. If you are having a difficult time, your dog will always be there to make your day. However, even if you don’t have a dog, you can always volunteer at an animal shelter. Perhaps a friend would also offer to let you take care of your pet or walk their dog from time to time.
Petting or playing with dogs is very therapeutic for both humans and our furry friends. There is a reason that dogs are man’s best friend because a dog’s love is simply incomparable.
Most counselors knew early on that dogs make us humans feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. Studies now show that they can also provide benefits for stressed college students. There’s a reason therapy dogs often visit college campuses, as stress and anxiety skyrocket among young adults. A recent Washington State University The research team revealed that petting dogs dramatically reduced stress levels for college students.
Pet therapy also improved the students’ cognitive function, allowing them to perform better academically. Perhaps this study will lead to more colleges embracing pet therapy to help students cope with increasing levels of stress.