New research from UBCO confirms physical contact with a therapy dog can significantly enhance student wellbeing. (Contributed: UBC Okanagan)

Canine cuddles significantly increases student wellbeing, says UBCO

The results aim to influence post-secondary mental health and wellness programs

If you love dogs or watch a lot of dog content, you’re in luck.

New research from UBCO confirms physical contact with a therapy dog can significantly enhance student wellbeing. Students who volunteered to participate were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions: touch or no touch canine interaction, or to spend time with a dog handler but no therapy dog present. Participants from all conditions experienced increased wellbeing on several of the measures, with the most benefit coming from physical contact with the dog. The touch contact with a therapy dog was the only one that saw a significant enhancement across all measures.

“There have been a number of studies that have found canine-assisted interventions significantly improve participants’ wellbeing, but there has been little research into what interactions provide the greatest benefits. We know spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial but we didn’t know why,” said professor John-Tyler Binfet, the director of the Building Academic Retention Through K-9s (BARK) program at the university.

The results aim to influence post-secondary mental health and wellness programs along with organization and delivery of canine-assisted intervention programs, especially with students potentially returning to on-campus learning in the fall. Binfet says that program organizers must be mindful of the dog-to-student ratio because research indicates that interacting through touch is key to reducing student stress.

“As students potentially return to in-person class on their college campuses this fall and seek ways to keep their stress in check, I’d encourage them to take advantage of the therapy dog visitation program offered. And once there — be sure to make time for a canine cuddle,” said associate professor John-Tyler Binfet. “That’s a surefire way to reduce stress.”

The research was led by Binfet and was co-authored by Building Academic Retention Through K-9s (BARK) coordinators Freya Green and Zakary Draper. The study was published in Anthrozoös, an international journal showcasing multidisciplinary research on interactions and relationships with animals.

READ MORE: UBC president voices support for mandatory indoor masking, vaccination


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