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Health & Relationships

How dog therapy improves your mood and university work

We already knew that dogs were the ultimate pets (sorry, cat lovers) – but it turns out that dogs at university can improve your mood and your ability to work. What did we do to deserve them?

a puppy and pug by a laptop

Credit: Sundays Photography (left), simona pilolla 2 (right) – Shutterstock

It's no secret that dogs are the best at cheering people up when they're down, but a study's revealed that interacting with them can also help students at risk of academic stress and failure, potentially preventing them from dropping out of uni.

Interacting with dogs has been shown to boost vital work skills like memory, attention and cognition, as well as lowering students' stress levels.

Petition for every student to get a dog, please?

With all of the pressures of studying, it's so important to look after your mental health at university – our guide contains advice, information and helplines.

How dogs can improve your mental health

beagle and owner on sofa

Credit: asia.marangio – Shutterstock

Mental health is a significant struggle for many students, and there are a number of factors that contribute to our health and wellbeing.

For example, our Student Money Survey 2021 found that 65% of students consider their mental health to suffer as a result of money worries.

As mental health issues can interfere with our abilities to work effectively, it's not surprising that dog therapy can improve both how we feel and study.

The study on how dogs can help at-risk students was led by researchers at Washington State University, with support from Mars Petcare's WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition.

Associate Professor Patricia Pendry, who was the lead study investigator, said in 2019:

Academic stress and associated negative impact on student performance is a significant issue for universities today and something we need to better address.

While more traditional learning programs continue to play a role, the results of the study are exciting as they indicate this type of intervention can be a positive stress management tool especially for students who are at-risk of poor academic performance.

In need of some cute dog photos? Our Instagram regularly features our adorable office dog, Harry the Havanese.

Dogs can reduce your stress hormone levels

happy dog looking up

Credit: InBetweentheBlinks – Shutterstock

Researchers at Washington State University have done some pretty interesting work on the impact of dogs on students.

In previous research, Dr Pendry has found that animal-visitation programmes like dog therapy sessions can have a physiological effect, actually altering our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. She said:

We know from previous research the positive effects of animal visitation programs on the mood of college students – and even recently discovered their positive effect on stress hormone levels.

However, this is the first study to demonstrate that more frequent and regular inclusion of dogs can positively affect aspects of cognitive functioning that may be more difficult to change with existing interventions.

Dog therapy at UK universities

dog holding lead waiting for walk

Credit: Jaromir Chalabala – Shutterstock

University dog therapy is an increasingly common way to help students de-stress and manage the pressures of their degree – particularly with the growing research that shows the positive impact of dogs on our mental health.

University of East Anglia (UEA) have a great initiative, running weekly dog-walking sessions to help students unwind.

Referring to this initiative, UEA academic Professor Andy Jones said in January 2019:

Our studies have shown that dog walking helps people to maintain their physical activity levels.

In addition, it is known that there are a wide range of social and mental health benefits.

As another example of universities recognising the benefits of dogs, in 2017, we heard a lovely story about Hollie Evans and her dog, Boris.

Thanks to the help of Boris, Hollie was able to push through chronic anxiety to attend her sister's graduation.

When her parents explained the situation to staff at the University of Reading, where Hollie's sister Daisy was graduating, they were "very kind" and allowed Boris to attend.

Boris dressed for the occasion, looking dapper in his very own graduation cap.

How to earn money working with dogs

dog on a computer

Let's face it: any job that allows you to work with dogs is bound to be good.

It's so important to feel happy and healthy in your workplace, so whether you're looking for a part-time job while at uni or a full-time graduate role, maybe have a think about ones that let you spend time with cute pups.

There are some jobs directly related to dogs, like pet sitting which is ideal for flexible student schedules.

Plus, a lot of offices have dogs – at Save the Student, for example, Harry the Havanese is always there to greet us at the door, sleep on our laps while we work and watch us eat (every day).

If you find yourself in an office that doesn't have a dog, but you've got one at home who keeps you calm, it might be worth asking your employer if you could bring them in with you every now and then.

As long as the dog's well behaved and toilet trained – and your boss likes dogs – it's unlikely to be an issue!

Struggling with being away from home? Take a look at our guide to dealing with homesickness for tips and advice.


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