Students pet dogs to help with stress.

Louise Hickey

As part of DCU’s study on the physical and emotional health of students, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind were brought to campus for the last week of college.

The study ‘Promoting And supporting the Wellbeing of Students (PAWS)’ involved a survey before and after students spent time with the dogs, asking about various feelings such as mood differences, stress levels, and energy levels.

The dogs on campus were in training for socialisation, with temporary owners before sitting their own exams full for full qualifications!

The project is ongoing and funded by the DCU Quality Improvement and Development. It is being led by Dr. Anna Donnla O’Hagan and Dr. Hannah Goss from the School of Health and Human Performance.

Coming up to exam time stress levels would be considerably higher for students. Goss explained that not only is this a chance to see the proper benefits of the survey but also “we think having these dogs on campus in the lead up to exams will be of real benefits to students”.

Previous research shows that time spent with therapy dogs or engaging in animal-assisted activities leads to significantly reduced stress levels.

Results from this survey have not been released yet, but campuses that the dogs have attended have all requested calls back.

A PAWS nationwide survey carried out last year of over 5,500 adolescents from 79 post-primary schools across Ireland showed that 4 out of 10 of the participating adolescents experienced feelings of anxiety or depression.

The research also showed a correlation between physical exercise and mood. Students who engaged in more physical activities had overall better mental health.

The idea of bringing these dogs to campus is to help alleviate the stress felt by students during the exam period. Therapy dogs are common practice in some places.

North American universities have been using dogs to relieve stress for many years now, with the University of Aberdeen becoming the first institution on this side of the Atlantic to implement the initiative.

Maybe it’s a practice that is here to stay in Ireland.

Louise Hickey

Image Credit: PAWS