“Therapy dogs” are all the rage on American campuses

At a university in the northeastern United States, a freshman says walking through the study advisor’s office, and being able to cuddle a dog, a Leonberger named Stella, is one of the highlights of her trip. daytime. At a large public college in the Midwest, a graduate told me how much a dog helped keep his spirits up: “It was a real comfort to be able to pet this animal, especially when I started to miss my family and my own dog”, told me about this young person who participates to research that I am leading on these new types of student support.

Each week, he and three comrades spent thirty-five minutes with what is now known as a “therapy dog” on American campuses, spending time petting him and giving him treats. Another student in the same program told me that these moments were precious in preparing for demanding exams: “I felt like it allowed me to relax before stressful deadlines.”

Such scenes are more and more frequent on the campuses of American universities. Facing mental health issues who have not stopped progress in recent years, universities have made particular use of therapy animals, which the students do not hesitate to come and see when the challenges of student life, especially personal workload, weigh them down.

Inasmuch as specialist in these programs – better known as dog-assisted procedures – I’ve studied how does this contact with a domestic animal could improve the well-being of young people. It turns out that it helps them to strengthen their sense of belonging, better deal with homesickness and loneliness, while reducing anxiety and stress. Some of these results can be explained by the way the human body reacts to interactions with therapy animals. A 2019 survey found that students who spent as little as ten minutes petting a cat or dog saw their cortisol levels decrease in a significative way.

Regular visits

According to a 2017 study of 150 establishments, 62% of them had an assisted intervention program by animals.

These programs are not organized quite the same from place to place. In some, a master and his animal come several times during the semester in the campus library. Then the students meet the dog one by one or in small groups, and spend between a few minutes and three quarters of an hour with him.

In other cases, things are more structured: a number of students are sponsored by a therapy dog ​​and their handler, and there are schedules to meet them.

“The therapy dog ​​is so calm. This mixture of energy and serenity helped me relieve tension with each session. ”
A student

The participating animals are of good temperament and well trained. The cost of registering them as a therapy dog ​​is low for owners. With the association Pet Partners, one of the most extensive for example, it comes down to at $ 15 and up to $ 30 to take the assessment, $ 95 to register with the therapy teams and $ 70 to renew.

The programs are coordinated by teachers or by staff from different departments such as psychologists or student services coordinators.

Positive testimonials

As I explained above, in my thesis, I asked a series of open-ended questions to young graduates to evaluate these interventions. Several people interviewed told me how much they appreciated being able to take this kind of break in their study schedule.

“The experience forced me to organize myself better in order to be able to take this leisure time”, observed one of them. “The therapy dog ​​is so calm, another confided. This mixture of energy and serenity helped me relieve tension with each session. ”

This joy is shared because the dogs would just as much appreciate coming to spend time with the students. Many teachers have told me that their companions were excited when the date of the visit to the university came up, and even happier when they arrived near the campus.

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