Examining the impact of a brief human-canine interaction on stress and attention

Jonathan B. Banks1, Caitlin McCoy1, and Courtney Trzcinski2
1: Nova Southeastern University
2: Canine Assisted Therapy, Inc.

The interaction between humans and canines has been linked to a variety of benefits including reductions in ADHD symptoms in children, depression symptoms in nursing home patients, and PTSD symptoms in veterans returning from war. Although the inclusion of therapy dogs on college campuses has increased over the last few years, little evidence exists demonstrating the effect of canine interaction in these settings. The current study examined the effects of college student’s interactions with therapy dogs during an exam period. Fifty-six students interacted with therapy dogs before or after completing measures of sustained attention, mind wandering, perceived stress, cognitive test anxiety, and state anxiety. Interacting with the therapy dogs reduced state anxiety and resulted in lower perceived stress but did not alter sustained attention task performance or mind wandering. The results suggest that interaction with therapy dogs may help reduce perception of stress and anxiety but may not alter the cognitive functions measured in the current study. Due to the levels of stress that college students experience during exam periods, on-campus therapy dog programs may provide a low, cost effective intervention that universities could implement to benefit their students.

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