Instead of nervously glancing at notes, downing another cup of coffee or staring at the ceiling reviewing facts and figures in their heads, what if college students could hang out with a puppy in the midst of exam time?
Students at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, were able to do just that for three days in early December thanks to the school offering a puppy room in its Student Union. Volunteers from Therapeutic Paws of Canada, which brings therapeutic dogs and cats into nursing homes, schools and other sites, accompanied the puppies.
A Facebook posting about the puppy room by Dalhousie University’s Student Union went viral in a minor way (the page was shared more than 2,000 times). One student, Jimmy Tennant commented, “My major paper is due at 4 PM on the 4th… I will beeline it to the Puppy Room.”
Another commenter, Missy Ross, suggested that a puppy room could help in other settings: “I think this idea should spread to other places….I’m a teacher and we are pretty stressed this time of year……a puppy would be an awesome distraction and would definitely lower my BP!”
The University of Ottawa has also brought in a therapy dog to alleviate student stress as has McGill University. Audrey Giles, a human kinetics professor, brings Tundra, an 8-year-old border collie mix, for “office hours” every two weeks so students can pet and play with her. The first time Giles announced that Tundra would be on a campus, about 20 students showed up — after word got out, that number tripled.
Noting that petting a dog can help reduce both blood pressure and anxiety, Giles says in The Star, “I’ve had a couple of students come in and say, ‘I have an exam in 10 minutes and I need to see the dog!’” She points out that Tundra, who was adopted from a rescue shelter in Edmonton, “can’t possibly get enough attention.” There are benefits for the puppies and therapy dogs, too.
More and more research has shown the health care benefits of therapy dogs and pets. The idea of making a puppy room or a therapy dog available to university students at exam time seems a no-brainer. Even if students might not have time to play with a puppy, just seeing an animal in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of exam time can be a stress-reliever. Taking a ten or fifteen time-out from writing an essay about the history plays of Shakespeare or studying for an anatomy and physiology exam and playing with a puppy can help students (not to mention others in a university community) refocus and refresh.
Students have actually waited in line for an hour and a half to play with Tundra, says Murray Sang, director of the University of Ottawa’s Student Academic Success Service. While emphasizing that rubbing a therapy dog’s belly and feeding her treats is no substitute for counseling, Sang acknowledges that “there’s something to it” — at the very least!
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