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Comfort Canines on Campus

What if “Spot” could be your new study buddy?

Elizabeth Hoyt

November 07, 2013

Comfort Canines on Campus
During what may be the worst week of all the weeks – finals – high schools and colleges are finding new and exciting ways to help ease student stress. One such method? Pet therapy. Schools are working with organizations to allow therapy dogs to visit over-stressed, overwhelmed and overworked students (of which there are many). Students are calmed by the mere presence of these animals and by petting, playing and cuddling with them during stressful times.

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Research studies have proven that interacting with therapy animals, like dogs, can significantly decrease stress in humans during trying times. According to, “playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.” Pet therapy methods been used for years in grief counseling, with medical patients and, even, to help elementary school children gain confidence.

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So, it’s only natural that it’s extended to some of the most stressed individuals out there: students. Schools like the University of Connecticut found pet therapy to be so beneficial to the students that it’s become a popular and repeated occurrence during exam cram times, in both spring and fall. The university hosts the dog therapy sessions within their university library and discovered that beneficiaries extended to staff and faculty as well. During one event held at the undergraduate library - cleverly named “Exam Paws” - more than 2,000 students stopped by for some puppy love on the first day.

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The University of Connecticut is just one example of colleges who have adopted such programs – Emory University, University of California, Chapman University, Kent State University and Macalester College are amongst the others, just to name a few. Indiana University has hosted events like “Rent-a-Puppy” day, where students could schedule time with dogs from local animal shelters for $5, with proceeds benefiting the shelters. It’s been a tradition at Minnesota’s Macalester College since 2006 – faculty and alumni members bring their dogs to campus during the school’s “Dog Day Afternoon” program to socialize with students during finals. The schools, of course, must take rules and regulations regarding fears, allergies and legal matters into account, usually accomplished with the proper signage and area blocking. But, such minor hurdles seem insignificant compared to the benefits of the programs and events. Often referred to as emotional comfort dogs, the regulations, standards and skills for therapy dogs are different than that of, say, a service dog. In order to be certified as a therapy animal, the dog must pass several different tests with a certifying organization involving obedience and disposition, be tested in contact situations, social situations, medical situations and environmental sensory stimulation. Basically, this means the dogs must respond to training commands, be willing to be touched, poked and prodded (since they will be touched a whole lot) and have no negative reaction to situations involving medical equipment or loud noises. Some schools, like Harvard University’s Medical School and Yale University’s Law School, even have dogs “on staff” in libraries to help ease student tensions with the provided paws. Students can “check out” a pooch in the library to spend some quality time with the campus’s canine. Often times, the dogs are companion pets of staff that have been registered as therapy dogs so that they can maintain regular office hours. Staff and faculty have also maintained that students who would not otherwise take much-needed breaks from their exam studies will do so during the pet therapy events and eases homesickness for new students – additional benefits of the programs. Whether provided through staff, shelters or a therapy dog service the conclusions are crystal clear: these programs work and the students love them. Perhaps all schools should think about implementing the programs. After all, everyone could use a little doggone unconditional love in their lives. If interested, you can learn more about bringing dogs to your school by connecting with a local animal shelter via or by finding for a therapy dog organizations in your state.

Would you find pet therapy beneficial at your school?

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