Tag Archives: Stanley Coren

Sit, Stay, Heal: Study finds therapy dogs help stressed university students

Therapy dog sessions for stressed-out students are an increasingly popular offering at North American universities. Now, new research from the University of British Columbia confirms that some doggy one-on-one time really can do the trick of boosting student wellness.

“Therapy dog sessions are becoming more popular on university campuses, but there has been surprisingly little research on how much attending a single drop-in therapy dog session actually helps students,” said Emma Ward-Griffin, the study’s lead author and research assistant in the UBC department of psychology. “Our findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on the wellbeing of university students, particularly on stress reduction and feelings of negativity.”

In research published today in Stress and Health, researchers surveyed 246 students before and after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session. Students were free to pet, cuddle and chat with seven to 12 canine companions during the sessions. They also filled out questionnaires immediately before and after the session, and again about 10 hours later.

The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session. While feelings of happiness and life satisfaction did not appear to last, some effects did.

“The results were remarkable,” said Stanley Coren, study co-author and professor emeritus of psychology at UBC. “We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session.”

While previous research suggested that female students benefit from therapy dog sessions more than male students, the researchers found the benefits were equally distributed across both genders in this study.

Since the strong positive effects of the therapy dog session were short-lived, the researchers concluded that universities should be encouraged to offer them at periods of increased stress.

“These sessions clearly provide benefits for students in the short-term, so we think universities should try to schedule them during particularly stressful times, such as around exam periods,” said Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at UBC. “Even having therapy dogs around while students are working on their out-of-class assignments could be helpful.”

The therapy dog sessions were organized in partnership with UBC’s Alma Mater Society and Vancouver ecoVillage, a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic services, including therapy dog sessions, and mental health wellness services.

Source:  University of British Columbia press release

 

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Dog intelligence

Most dog owners have an opinion about their dog’s intelligence.  I regularly hear comments like, “He’s so smart, he’s ahead of the rest of his obedience class” or “He’s not very bright, but we love him.”

 When I was working on my management qualification years ago, we were told to go home and ask our partner/flatmate about how they solved problems.  Ebony, my Labrador flatmate at the time, came up with these tips, which I thought were very intelligent:

  1. Remember that chasing your tail does not get you anywhere.  It also makes you dizzy and less able to focus on the task at hand.
  2. Eat regularly and often.  Problem solving is hard work and requires energy.
  3. Don’t underestimate the value of a nap.  A problem looks different after you’ve had a good sleep.
  4. If you stare at a problem long enough, it might move on its own.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Try looking cute.
  6. If looking cute doesn’t work, try whining.
  7. If whining fails, loud retching noises are guaranteed to get the attention of those around you.
  8. Some problems soften over time.  Burying them in the garden hastens this process.
  9. Some problems require more immediate attention.  An immediate problem, if left unattended, is likely to result in a much more smelly mess to be cleaned up later.

There are many published works on the subject of dog intelligence.  Over the years, I’ve read countless research studies into this subject.  There are many institutions involved in the research.  All projects have the goal of understanding how dogs think.

Professor Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia has authored several books about dog intelligence.  He states that dogs have the intellectual capacity of a two-year old and can understand more than 150 words.[1]

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have studied the ability of dogs to interpret human gestures.  When researchers hid food beneath one container in a group and pointed to the ‘right’ container, dogs consistently picked up on those cues better than even chimpanzees (a species widely studied because of the evolutionary link between apes and humans).

Earlier this year, a research team at the University of Otago reported on their study that showed that dogs could readily distinguish happy human sounds from sad or angry ones, suggesting an ability to understand human emotions.

Even the dog toy market has recognised that dogs need mental stimulation.  The Nina Ottosson range, for example, offers a range of skill level toys designed to make your dog think about how to reveal their food reward.

Daisy demonstrates her intelligence with a Nina Ottosson toy

Despite all of this evidence, including videos of my Daisy using her interactive toys, many of the non-dog people in my life remain unconvinced about the intelligence of dogs.  I believe that persistence will pay off.  Over time we will see more and more research about the intellectual capacity of our dogs.  The non-believers will become believers.


[1] Science Daily, 10 August 2009