Stress Busting Dogs!
Veterinarian Reviewed on May 8, 2009 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Everyone who was ever a student can surely relate to how stressful finals week can be! Along with the stress of the exams, students often find themselves in the library or in study groups, frantically trying to cram in every piece of information that is offered to them in their text books. Often times this means that the students will even cut down on their free time, just so that they can study more in order to get a good grade or even just to pass their class.
This loss of their social life, coupled with the anxiety of the looming examinations, can cause some students to actually fail their examinations. They become so stressed that they forget the information that they originally learnt.
However, some schools are trying to help students cope with their exam stress by bringing stress busting dogs to the schools.
One such school is the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here the school’s department of University Health Services hosted a counseling canine day during the University’s annual Pet Therapy study break.
Every year the University holds its Pet Therapy Study Break where not only are school counselors available to talk with students about stress, but so are their dogs! Each counselor brings their own dog to work with them for the day so that the dogs can ‘work’ with the students.
Such a large variety of dogs means that there are plenty of dogs available to be petted and played with by the University Students. This provides the students with a much deserved break from all their hard studying.
University Officials report that the canine counselors have proven to be a great stress buster for their students.
Rob Sepich, the Student Relations Manager at the University Health Services says that:
“Taking brief study breaks – even five minutes per hour – can reduce stress and help you recall information”.
Central Michigan University does something quite similar. They invite Dog Tales, an organization comprised of certified therapy dog handlers and their certified therapy dogs, to the University’s campus to help the students release their exam stress.
Dog Tales also made appearances at a variety of different residence halls and has been an active part of Central Michigan University for the past five years.
Sophomore, Julie Mitchell exclaimed: “I love dogs. I don’t know if (petting the dogs) relieves stress, but it makes me feel good. I think it’s a neat idea, I never heard of it before.”
The Founder and Coordinator of Dog Tales, Betty Lewis, who is also the executive secretary for the philosophy and religion department at Central Michigan University, explains that: “It’s actually proven by statistics that petting a dog lowers your blood pressure and stress level”.
Dog Tales not only visits the Universities but also visits various elementary schools and libraries as well.
David Rudzinski, one of the certified dog handler that is a part of Dog Tales, said “We bring the dogs to schools and libraries, and the elementary school kids read to them. We take them to medical centers, give the residents an opportunity to play with them.”
According to Ms Lewis, the Dog Tales program was mainly designed to help children improve their self-esteem and their reading skills.
“We know we’re helping the children read better, we help them overcome their shyness,” Lewis said.
Not every dog can become a certified therapy dog though. Therapy dog wannabe’s have to go through extensive training, which includes obedience classes and as well as a variety of different performing tricks. Once certified the dogs enjoy an assortment of benefits, including insurance.
“Each dog is insured by a $3 million coverage,” Lewis said.
David Rudzinski explained that “(The title) Therapy dog means he is certified to have a good disposition, he works well with people, works well with other dogs”.
It has long been known by psychologists, veterinarians and researchers that pets are perfect tools to encourage better mental and physical health in both children and adults. In fact, pet therapy is not only comprised of dogs, but also of cats, parrots, horses and other animals too.
Therapy pets are brought into hospitals, nursing homes and schools so that they may be able to help both children and adults to better deal with difficult situations that they find themselves in.
There is even a funeral home situated in Flat Rock, Michigan, that enlists the help of Zoey, a golden retriever, as a grief therapy dog. Almost two dozen grieving families have invited Zoey and her owner to attend visitations since last November. Zoey ‘works the room’ by walking amongst the attendees with her owner and stops whenever someone wants to pet her.
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for 28 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan