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A randomized cross-over exploratory study of the effect of visiting therapy dogs on college student stress before final exams

By S. B. Barker, R. T. Barker, N. L. McCain, C. M. Schubert

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This exploratory study investigated the effect of visiting therapy dogs on college-student perceived and physiological stress the week prior to final exams. Students ( n=78) were randomly assigned to order of a therapy-dog intervention and attention-control condition, each 15 minutes long. Students completed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), a stress visual analog scale (SVAS), and provided saliva for measuring nerve growth factor (sNGF) and alpha amylase (sAA), prior to randomization. Saliva samples and SVAS were again collected after each condition. There was no effect of group order on demographics, PSS, or initial SVAS. Repeated measures models were used to analyze the complete data sets of 57 students. There were no significant differences in sAA between or within students completing the intervention and control conditions. sNGF was not subjected to analysis as most levels were undetectable. Significant differences in SVAS scores were found between the intervention and control condition, with large effect sizes. SVAS scores were lower following the intervention, regardless of condition order (intervention first, p=0.0001, d=1.87; intervention second, p=0.0004, d=1.63). No SVAS differences were found for the control condition. Based on these findings, campus events with visiting therapy dogs represent a cost-effective, easily accessible activity to reduce perceived, but not physiological, stress for college students prior to final exams.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 29
Issue 1
Pages 35-46
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1069988
Language English
Author Address Department of Psychiatry, Center for Human-Animal Interaction, Virginia Commonwealth University, P. O. Box 980710, Richmond, VA 23298-0710,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal physiology
  3. Animals
  4. Animal science
  5. Anthrozoology
  6. Behavioral research
  7. Canidae
  8. Canine
  9. Carnivores
  10. Dogs
  11. Effect
  12. Enzymes
  13. Growth
  14. Human behavior
  15. Humans
  16. Interventions
  17. Mammals
  18. Men
  19. models
  20. Pets and companion animals
  21. physiology
  22. Primates
  23. Psychiatry and psychology
  24. Relationships
  25. saliva
  26. Social psychology and social anthropology
  27. students
  28. therapy
  29. vertebrates
  30. Zoology