The use of university-based Animal Visitation Programs (AVPs)—programs aimed at reducing student stress through human–animal interaction (HAI)—has increased. Implementation has expanded despite our limited understanding about program effects on student and animal wellbeing. Moreover, little is known about the nature of interactions between students and animals and how interaction quality might influence effects. The aim of this study was to identify and describe dog and student behaviors that inform the quality, type, and quantity of human–animal interaction during a university-based AVP. Over a period of three semesters, university students (n = 150) and therapy dogs (n = 27) were videorecorded during a 10-minute “meet-and-greet” activity conducted in small group settings. Based on coding 22.9 hours of 135 videos, comparisons of the frequency and duration of dog behavior (e.g., postural state, oral behavior) before and during interactions with students revealed an increase in the frequency of lip licking (Mbefore = 1.23, Mduring = 1.76, Z = –4.651, p < 0.001, r = 0.283) and yawning (Mbefore = 0.08, Mduring = 0.16, Z = –3.051, p = 0.002, r = 0.186) in dogs. Correlations between dog and student greeting behavior (e.g., posture, petting behavior) revealed a positive correlation between the frequency of lip licking and mutual greetings between students and dogs (r(133) = 0.283, p = 0.001). Results suggest dogs experience heightened arousal upon greeting and interacting with students. The absence of severe stress behaviors and continued presence of sustained social approach behaviors suggests that the dogs were not severely stressed during interactions. Implications for the implementation of AVPs are discussed.
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