Therapy dogs can be found easily enough in most hospitals and retirement homes. But now there is another group with the opportunity to spend some therapeutic time with these wonderful animals. "Puppy rooms" are becoming common in colleges throughout the United States and Canada during finals week.
It's not secret that college life can be very stressful, but it doesn't have to be a detriment to mental health. Universities across the United States and Canada are bringing in therapy dogs to help students cope with stress in a more positive way. It has been shown that pets can help decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as reduce levels of cortisol — a stress hormone. This provides very real benefits for university students who are feeling stressed out, especially during finals week.
Dalhousie University, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was one of the first schools to adopt this stress release technique for its students. The school set up a puppy room filled with therapy dogs from a volunteer group called Therapeutic Paws of Canada. Gavin Jardine, the Vice President of Student Life at Dalhousie, believed that this would be very helpful to students who are trying to cope with the stress associated with finals week. He stated that mental health is a growing issue on campus, and that this would be a fun and inexpensive way to address that during a stressful time for the students. Word about this puppy room spread quickly around campus, and students responded very positively.
Dalhousie is not the only North American University that is doing this. McGill University, located in Quebec, used to the same volunteer organization to help students de-stress during exams week. Bucknell University in Pennsylvania offered students the chance to line up to be able to pet a dog, as petting a dog has actually been shown to relieve stress in humans. Kent State University in Ohio actually put together its own pet therapy program, Dogs on Campus, to be of assistance to students who are dealing with stress or grief, as well as homesickness.
Audrey Giles, a Human Kinetics professor at the University of Ottawa, has office hours with her border collie, Tundra, every couple of weeks. Students who are experiencing stress can sign up for a chance to visit this dog, pet her, and have her do tricks for treats.
Another reason why these puppy rooms and other programs involving dogs on college campuses might be becoming so popular is simple homesickness. Many of these students are far away from home, and they leave behind their own beloved pets to go to college. They are accustomed to the support that a family dog offered during their growing-up years. Online students keep that support, making online college programs potentially more productive that traditional educational options that necessitate leaving home. When you factor in the stress that many students experience when they are starting college, it makes sense to implement therapy dog programs for students’ mental health.
The benefits of therapy dogs don’t stop at college students who are away from home for their first time. High school education is becoming increasingly demanding, and together with other factors, diagnoses of childhood anxiety and depression are at an all-time high. According to a new study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, having a pet dog at home can help keep mental illness at bay. This may be related to all of the oxytocin and endorphins that our brains release when we’re around them. Having a family dog is good for adults, too, helping us de-stress after we get home from work.
Puppy rooms and other services involving dogs on college campuses are becoming increasingly popular, and for a good reason. They seem to have many perks associated with them, and they seem to genuinely be useful for many students who are on campus without really costing the universities too much money at all. It is definitely possible that this trend is going to continue growing as mental health becomes a greater priority.
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