University students with elevated stress levels are at risk for experiencing compromised mental health and for underperforming academically. In an effort to support student wellbeing, post-secondary campuses are increasingly offering canine therapy programs. These programs provide students opportunities to interact with dogs known for their calm public behavior, docile temperaments, and eagerness to interact with strangers. Despite the interest in canine therapy, there remains a paucity of research attesting to the benefits of this approach to support university student wellbeing. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of a group-administered, single-session canine therapy intervention on university students’ perceptions of stress, homesickness, and affinity to campus. Participants (n = 163) were randomly assigned to a treatment (n = 84, 20-minute exposure to therapy dog, handler, and fellow students) condition or a business-as-usual control (n = 79, 20 minutes of individual studying) condition. No baseline differences were identified between the two groups. Findings revealed a significant main effect for group, and when compared with the control group, participants in the treatment group showed significant decreases from pre-test to post-test in perceived stress, homesickness (dislike), and homesickness (attachment), and significant improvements in sense of school belonging. Interestingly, control group scores on homesickness (dislike) also differed significantly from pre-test to post-test, with the means increasing from pre-test to post-test. After controlling for pre- and post-test scores, there were no significant differences on any of the self-report measures between participants in the treatment and control groups at follow-up. Findings are discussed within the contexts of animal-assisted therapy and on-campus stress reduction initiatives.
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