UBC Okanagan, a university in Canada, is home to a Building Academic Retention through K-9s (BARK) program. While this program has long shown an increase in student well-being from interactions with dogs, the specifics have remained unknown.
To investigate, Dr. John-Tyler Binfet recently led a team in the assessment of 284 interactions between students and dogs.
“There have been a number of studies that have found canine-assisted interventions significantly improve participants’ wellbeing, but there has been little research into what interactions provide the greatest benefits,” explained Dr. Binfet. “We know that spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial but we didn’t know why.”
To take a closer look at what type of interactions with dogs are most beneficial to students, the researchers recruited volunteers.
The participants were assigned one of three different interactions: with a dog without touching, with a dog with touching, or with a dog handler without a dog. Before and after each interaction, the students answered questions to assess their well-being.
The study revealed that students showed improvement from interactions with dogs regardless of their initial level of well-being. Unsurprisingly, the students who interacted with the dogs by touching them had a greater increase in their perceived well-being than those who did not touch dogs.
Dr. Binfet explains why his research is very timely. “As students potentially return to in-person class on their college campuses this fall and seek ways to keep their stress in check, I’d encourage them to take advantage of the therapy dog visitation program offered.”
“And once there – be sure to make time for a canine cuddle…That’s a surefire way to reduce stress.”
Dr. Binfet points out that his research shows how best to use therapy dogs, and that a proper ratio of dogs to people is essential to allow dog cuddling.