Playing With a Dog Helps You Feel Less Stressed
According to a recent study, spending time with a dog can reduce stress and increase your energy and happiness.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia questioned 246 students both before and after they spent time with a therapy dog. The students were allowed to interact with seven to 12 dogs during each therapy sessions. The students were allowed to pet, cuddle and interact with all of the dogs or could spend one-on-one time with their favorite canine during the study. All types of dogs, including big, small and mixed breed therapy dogs were involved.
The researchers determined that the students revealed significant reductions in stressand an increased feeling of energy and happiness immediately after their session, in contrast to a control group of students who did not spend time with the dogs.
Students get stressed very often, especially around exam time,” says Frances Chen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, and one of the co-authors of the study. But doggie de-stress sessions are getting increasingly popular in the US. Students were on waiting lists for therapy dog sessions. So researchers set out to try and figure out if these therapy dog sessions that are so popular actually have a tangible effect on students’ well being and stress levels.
Once a student signed up and was determined eligible, they were able to attend one of several therapy dog sessions that took place on the University campus over the course of a semester. The University partnered with Vancouver ecoVillage, who provided between seven and 12 therapy dogs and their handlers for each session. The dogs were from all different breeds who had been trained and had a history of obedience and friendly interactions with strangers.
From there, students were allowed to do whatever they wanted in the sessions, whether it be to pet and interact will all of the dogs, or spend quality time with their favorite canine. After the sessions, students reported feeling less stressed, more energetic and happier, even in sessions as little as 15 minutes or so of interacting with the dogs.
The students were then given a second survey to be filled out within 24 hours of their session. The average response time for each student was 10 hours. The surveys showed that the mood effects of the students had minimized, which was expected because often times in these short-term interventions, you don’t see long lasting effects in things like mood.
But students were reporting less feelings of negativity, and more interestingly, they reported a greater global sense of social support. Their perceived social support, not just from the therapy dog session, but in general, was higher. They found that quite interesting, just being part of a session like this might have a larger effect on the global perspectives of your social environment.
The study also revealed an equally positive effect for both male and female students from the therapy dog sessions. Though previous research had indicated that women experience more positive effects from therapy dog sessions then men, the UBC study found the positive results to be evenly distributed across genders.
So might there be wider ranging implications for this research? Could therapy dogs benefit people other people in stressful situations?
Therapy dogs are becoming more popular at hospitals, and in a few instances also in the workplace, It's to be expected that these effects would generalise past student populations. Any population that has some reason to need a de-stressed kind of setting would likely experience similar benefits.