Many campuses are taking action against the stress of testing and being away from home by creating puppy rooms for their students. The 2014 National College Health Assessment survey reported that almost one in six college students were diagnosed with or treated for anxiety while in school. Not only are the young adults living away from their parents – many for their first time – but they may also be away from siblings, friends, and family pets. Just the act of moving to college affects a student's entire support system, and forming new bonds may be difficult for some. Not to mention, self-inflicted stress from studying, tests, extracurriculars, and financial woes.
In an effort to ease stress, college campuses are setting up puppy rooms, allowing students to schedule time to de-stress with therapeutic dogs in a safe environment. While some schools offer this as an option year round, others team up with local organizations to bring the pups to campus during finals week, often the most stressful time on campus.
Puppy rooms have other benefits, too. A study completed by scientists at Hiroshima University in Japan found that when people were presented with pictures of puppies or kittens, they showed higher levels of concentration. Performance improved by 44% after taking a break to view pictures! If viewing pictures of puppies helped people to concentrate on the task at hand, what effect would interacting with dogs have on a student's education?
Colleges and Universities Committed to Puppy Stress Relief
Kent State University claims to be the first state school with a pet therapy program. The Dogs on Campus program started in 2004, and it still runs regularly on campus.
The University of Connecticut's Paws to Relax program allows students to visit with therapy dogs during finals. The best part is that these cuddle sessions are held in the library. Important question: does that mean there's no barking allowed?
The University of Iowa also encourages de-stressing sessions during finals. One of its many activities includes taking a study break with therapy dogs twice a year for each semester's finals.
While one would expect to check out books from a university library, therapy dogs are also available for rent. Yale University's Law Library regularly "stocks" a therapy dog. The program started with Monty, who has since retired, but according to the Yale Daily News, they have found a replacement in library pup, Pippin. Also, Yale's Medical Library now employs not one, but two dogs – both named Finn.
The University of California Berkeley recognizes that college stress isn't only present a couple times a year during finals. Its Pet Hugs program, in partnership with the Animal Rescue Foundation, brings therapy dogs to campus once a month for student snuggling.
The University of Minnesota is the real pack leader. Similar to UC Berkeley, the school understands the need to regularly give students interaction with dogs. Its PAWS (Pet Away Worry and Stress) program creates weekly opportunities for animal-assisted interactions and in three locations. That means, in any average week, there are three chances students can spend time in a puppy room. Best of all, while students are absolutely encouraged to get their weekly dose of dog, these events are open to the public, so community members without pets are welcome to unwind as well.
Benefits of Dogs on Campuses
All of these universities are offering these puppy rooms as alternative stress relief opportunities. What they are also finding is that students that participate in the program not only feel less stressed, but it also helps to elevate their overall mood. With their mood and concentration levels up, these puppy programs are showing positive effects in testing scores as well. This gives the student all the benefits of interacting with the puppy without the added responsibility of caring for one on top of their busy school schedules. Not only do these students get time to de-stress, but schools that bring in dogs from local therapy training programs get added training to help them earn their certification.
Never underestimate the effect that a family pet can have on your mood either. For parents of students in school, watch how your child interacts with the family pet when they are home on break. It might just be worth letting your pup spend a week with your son or daughter at school, if allowed, to give them some additional bonding time as well as help them through some stressful times.
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform–and even transform–its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.