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Health & Relationships

How dogs can improve your mental health

We already knew that puppies were the ultimate pets (sorry, cat lovers). But it turns out that dogs 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

Dogs are brilliant at cheering people up when they're down. And a study has revealed that interacting with them can help people at risk of academic stress and failure. In fact, they can potentially prevent students from dropping out of uni.

Interacting with dogs can boost vital skills like memory, attention and cognition while lowering stress levels.

Petition for every student to get a dog, please?

It's so important to look after your mental health at uni. Our guide contains advice, information and helplines.

Puppy therapy and mental health

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

For example, in our Student Money Survey 2023, 55% of students said their mental health suffers due to money worries.

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

In 2019, researchers at Washington State University led a study on how dogs can help at-risk students.

Associate Professor Patricia Pendry, who was the lead study investigator, said at the time:

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.

Looking for ways to relax and de-stress? Try these self-care ideas.

Dogs can reduce stress hormone levels

happy dog looking up

Credit: InBetweentheBlinks – Shutterstock

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

Dr Pendry 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

Therapy dogs are sometimes brought into universities to help students unwind.

University of East Anglia (UEA) has a great initiative. They run weekly dog-walking sessions to improve the wellbeing of students.

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.

This isn't the only example of a uni recognising the benefits of puppies.

In 2017, we also heard a lovely story about Hollie and her dog, Boris. Thanks to the help of Boris, Hollie was able to push through chronic anxiety to attend her sister's graduation.

Her parents explained the situation to staff at the University of Reading, and the uni kindly let Boris 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 lets you work with dogs is bound to be good.

It's so important to feel happy and healthy in your workplace. When thinking about jobs, you could consider ones that let you spend time with puppies. This could be both in terms of a part-time job at uni or a full-time graduate role.

There are some jobs directly related to dogs. As an example, pet sitting is ideal for flexible student schedules and is also great as a summer job.

Plus, a lot of offices have puppies.

If you've got a dog that keeps you calm, you could see if your employer's happy for you to bring them in 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.

Laura Brown

WRITTEN BY Laura Brown

Laura Brown, Head of Editorial at Save the Student, is an award-winning writer with expertise in student money. She project manages influential national student surveys and has presented findings to MPs in Westminster. As an expert on student issues, Laura has been quoted by the BBC, the Guardian, Metro and more.
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