Tag Archives: petting

Petting therapy dogs enhances thinking skills of stressed students

For college students under pressure, a dog may be the best stress fighter around.

Programs exclusively focused on petting therapy dogs improved stressed-out students’ thinking and planning skills more effectively than programs that included traditional stress-management information, according to new Washington State University research.

Enzo, a Labrador retriever and experienced therapy dog, enjoys some attention and relaxation during the WSU stress management study with students.

The study was published on May 12, 2021 in the journal AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association. The paper demonstrated that stressed students still exhibited these cognitive skills improvements up to six weeks after completion of the four-week-long program.

“It’s a really powerful finding,” said Patricia Pendry, associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Universities are doing a lot of great work trying to help students succeed academically, especially those who may be at risk due to a history of mental health issues or academic and learning issues. This study shows that traditional stress management approaches aren’t as effective for this population compared with programs that focus on providing opportunities to interact with therapy dogs.”

The researchers measured executive functioning in the 309 students involved in the study. Executive function is a term for the skills one needs to plan, organize, motivate, concentrate, memorize: “all the big cognitive skills that are needed to succeed in college,” Pendry said.

Pendry conducted this study as a follow up to previous work, which found that petting animals for just 10 minutes had physiological impacts, reducing students’ stress in the short-term.

In the three-year study, students were randomly assigned to one of three academic stress-management programs featuring varying combinations of human-animal interaction and evidenced-based academic stress management. The dogs and volunteer handlers were provided through Palouse Paws, a local affiliate of Pet Partners, a national organization with over 10,000 therapy teams.

“The results were very strong,” Pendry said. “We saw that students who were most at risk ended up having most improvements in executive functioning in the human-animal interaction condition. These results remained when we followed up six weeks later.”

Many universities, including WSU, have provided academic stress management programs and workshops for many years. These are traditionally very similar to college classes, where students listen to an expert, watch slideshows and take notes. They’re often evidence-based courses that talk about ways to get more sleep, set goals, or manage stress or anxiety.

“These are really important topics, and these workshops are helping typical students succeed by teaching them how to manage stress,” Pendry said. “Interestingly though, our findings suggest that these types of educational workshops are less effective for students that are struggling. It seems that students may experience these programs as another lecture, which is exactly what causes the students to feel stressed.”

Human-animal interaction programs help by letting struggling students relax as they talk and think about their stressors. Through petting animals, they are more likely to relax and cope with these stressors rather than become overwhelmed. This enhances students’ ability to think, set goals, get motivated, concentrate and remember what they are learning, Pendry said.

“If you’re stressed, you can’t think or take up information; learning about stress is stressful!” she said.

Animal sessions aren’t just about changing behavior; they help students engage in positive thoughts and actions.

“You can’t learn math just by being chill,” Pendry said. “But when you are looking at the ability to study, engage, concentrate and take a test, then having the animal aspect is very powerful. Being calm is helpful for learning especially for those who struggle with stress and learning.”

The study was supported by a grant through the WALTHAM Human–Animal Interaction Collaborative Research Program.

Source: Washington State University

Heavy (or automatic) petting?

We live in an era of automation.  There’s a machine for just about everything.

Would you want a machine to take over the ‘job’ of petting your dog?  Woodworker Matt Thompson of Michigan thinks so.

Here’s his prototype design…

Nice idea?

I’m not sure if all the dogs would approve.  My greyhound, Izzy, likes to be petted while laying  in her (or my) bed.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Get Healthy, Get a Dog

The Harvard Medical School has published a special health report entitled Get Healthy, Get a Dog:  The health benefits of canine companionship. 

The report details the many ways that dogs can improve the lives of humans.

Get Healthy, Get a DogIn promoting the report, the School says:

There are many reason why dogs are called humans’ best friends: not only do they offer unparalleled companionship, but a growing body of research shows they also boost human health. Owning a dog can prompt you to be more physically active — have leash, will walk. It can also:

  • help you be calmer, more mindful, and more present in your life
  • make kids more active, secure, and responsible
  • improve the lives of older individuals
  • make you more social and less isolated

Just petting a dog can reduce the petter’s blood pressure and heart rate (while having a positive effect on the dog as well).

The report can be purchased in print (US$20), in .pdf electronic version (US$18) or both (US$29) from this webpage.

I’m pleased to see this type of publication coming from such a reputable institution.  Dogs and humans both benefit when  humans take responsibility for a committed and healthy relationship.  I particularly like that the report also covers grief, since we all will face grieving the loss of beloved pet (given the odds – since we live a lot longer than our dogs do).

The chapters in the report include:

  • Our dogs, ourselves
    • Benefits of dog ownership
    • Service dogs
  • How dogs make us healthier
    • Physical activity
    • Cardiovascular benefits
    • Reduced asthma and allergies in kids
    • Psychological benefits
    • How human contact benefits dogs
  • SPECIAL SECTION
    • Nutrition guidelines for dogs
  • Exercise for you and your dog
    • Exercise whys and wherefores
    • The exercise prescription for people
    • Exercise guidelines for dogs
    • Help your dog avoid injuries
    • Walking with your dog
    • Hiking
    • Running
    • Biking
    • Swimming
    • Playing fetch, Frisbee, or flying disc
    • Agility training
    • Skijoring
    • Playing inside the house
  • Adopting a dog
    • Deciding on the qualities you want
    • Breed considerations
    • Finding your dog
  • How to be a responsible dog owner
    • Basic equipment
    • Veterinary care
    • Dogs in cars
    • Providing for your dog while you’re at work
  • Raising a well-behaved dog
    • Obedience training
    • Housetraining
    • Keeping dogs off furniture … or not
    • Soothing the anxious hound
  • Grieving a loss
  • Resources
  • Glossary

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand