Therapy dogs effectively reduce stress in college preparatory students

(1) 'Iolani School, (2) Self-employed
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A vast majority of high school students report feeling stressed, especially in schools with a rigorous curriculum. There are many strategies for reducing students’ stress and improving their mental health. Therapy dogs are particularly promising, as they’ve been shown to lower stress levels during a stressful test even better than a close human friend. The purpose of our study was to expand on these findings by investigating the effectiveness of therapy dogs on reducing stress levels of students who are enrolled in a school with a rigorous curriculum. We hypothesized that the time spent with a therapy dog, either before or after a stressful event, would decrease heart rate and reduce perceived stress levels. We conducted two experiments with a total of 87 high school students enrolled in advanced placement courses. In experiment one, the Sing-a-Song Stress test was followed by a therapy dog or control intervention. We observed no difference in heart rate between the dog therapy and control groups, but there was a trend towards lower State Trait Anxiety Inventory scores in the dog therapy group. In experiment two, ten minutes of dog therapy prior to three stressful Stroop tests more significantly reduced negative feelings in the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule for Children assessment compared to silent rest. These data suggest that therapy dogs could be an effective stress reliever for college preparatory students.

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