Therapy Pets Helping Students to Relax Before Exams

While very few student rentals allow tenants to bring pets with them, and Student Rooms 4 U is no exception, it’s possible that students across the UK could soon be spending more time with furry friends. Any pet owner will tell you that having a four-legged friend around increases their happiness, reduces their stress levels and generally helps them to lead a happier life. Recent research has proven that spending time with dogs can help aid students (especially during stressful exam times) to feel more relaxed, less stressed, and generally happier. Some institutes are considering adding canines to their staff, while others have done so already.

The Research

There have been studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and other institutes in the US that suggest there are multiple benefits of spending time with dogs. The students who benefitted the most were ones who were at risk of dropping out, who struggle with nerves and anxiety, and those who had trouble feeling accepted by their peers. Not only did spending time with the dogs make the students feel more relaxed, but it also helped them to concentrate on their studies when it came to both learning and remembering information.

One study of more than 300 undergrads saw the volunteers spending a weekly one-hour session with the dogs and their professional handlers. “Students most at risk, such as those with mental health issues, showed the most benefit,” said Dr Pendry, from Washington State University.

The positive effect of spending time with the dogs has been shown to have a lasting influence on the volunteers. One study asked the participants to fill out questionnaires before and after the sessions, and another one ten hours later. Even in the final questionnaire, participants reported feeling happier and expressed more mental positivity than those who had not spent time with the dogs. In one study, researchers found that participant stress levels dropped by around 45%, energy increased by roughly 37% and happiness by 27%.

Therapy Dog Charities

In the US there are roughly 1,000 study campuses which are currently using therapy pets to help reduce stress levels in their students. In the UK, institutes that have been involving therapy pets into their programs include University College London, Cambridge, London Metropolitan, Buckingham, Nottingham Trent, Leeds City College, the University of Middlesex, and Swansea.  There are five canine teaching assistants at the University of Middlesex – they even have their own ID badges. “The quickest and biggest hit that we can make to improve mental health in our schools and to make them feel safe for children is to have at least one dog in every single school in the country,” said Sir Anthony Seldon, University of Buckingham vice-chancellor.

Therapy dogs have been used not only in schools, but also in hospitals. The charity Pets as Therapy has been running since the 1980’s, and has been arranging for volunteers (and their pets) to visit nursing homes, hospitals, hospices and day care centres. The pets need to be well trained, well behaved and quiet, and enjoy spending time with people – PAT have strict guidelines to vet the animals and their volunteers before visits take place. In the UK, they have 4,500 registered dogs (and 100 cats) who make regular visits to people who need a calming influence, and the charity is always on the lookout for more volunteers.

Another registered charity that endorses therapy pets is Therapy Dogs Nationwide. This is one company that works directly with UK universities on student enrichment programs before high stress periods, such as exam season. Another scheme they support with is the ‘Paws and Read’ program, where children who are nervous about their reading ability can practice reading out loud to dogs – something which helps them gain confidence and enjoy reading more. They also visit offices to help workers relax and concentrate on their work. Here’s what someone from the Rolls Royce office said after their visit: “Having the Therapy Dogs to visit was an amazing experience for the office!”


Jen from School Therapy Dogs says that it can be difficult to convince people of the positive influence that therapy dogs can have. Many people respond with “You just want to bring your dog to school with you, don’t you?” This is why it’s great that new research and studies are being done on the benefits of therapy dogs in different settings, so that seeing a dog in a school/university/care home/hospital can be seen as a normal, professional and beneficial practice, rather than a reason to call social services!

University of Plymouth

At present, University of Plymouth doesn’t offer therapy dogs sessions to its students, but with the growing popularity of such schemes, perhaps it won’t be too long until cuddle time with darling doggos could be part of your university experience? With undergraduate courses at Plymouth such as BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour and Welfare, BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy and BSc (Hons) Zoology, perhaps this would be an admirable focus for a pet-loving student to write a paper or conduct research into? With ground-breaking research and findings in recent news relating to therapy pets, could Plymouth University become a forerunner in branding scepticism over therapy pets a thing of the past?