A new university study says hugging a dog can put more than just a smile on your face.
The study, done at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, assessed the impact of client-canine contact on wellbeing outcomes in 284 undergraduate students.
The research was led by UBCO associate professor Dr. John-Tyler Binfet plus co-authors Freya Green, a member of the university’s psychology dept., and Zakary Draper, a doctoral student.
“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,” says Dr. Binfet.
“We know that spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial, but we didn’t know why.”
Binet is also the director of the Building Academic Retention Through K-9s (BARK) program.
According to the university, students volunteered to participate and were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions — touch or no touch canine interaction, or to spend time with a dog handler but with no therapy dog present.
UBCO also noted that prior to the sessions, participants provided self-reports of wellbeing; specifically measuring their self-perceptions of flourishing, positive and negative affect, social connectedness, happiness, integration into the campus community, stress, homesickness and loneliness.
“Participants across all conditions experienced increased wellbeing on several of the measures, with more benefit when a dog was present, with the most benefit coming from physical contact with the dog,” said UBCO.
“Notably, the touch contact with a therapy dog group was the only one that saw a significant enhancement across all measures.”
The university says with many students feeling anxious about the return to in-person learning, the results stand to influence post-secondary mental health and wellness programs, along with the organization and delivery of canine-assisted intervention programs.
“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,” said Dr. Binet.
“And once there — be sure to make time for a canine cuddle. That’s a surefire way to reduce stress.”
The study was published in Anthrozoös, an international journal that studies the relationships between people and animals.