Shelter Dog Meal Donation Count:

Learn More

Petting A Therapy Dog Benefits Students For Weeks, Study Finds

Written by: Molly Weinfurter
Molly Weinfurter is a writer for iHeartDogs, and she’s passionate about helping animals in need. She volunteers for Bailing Out Benji and a local dog rescue.Read more
| Published on June 1, 2021

We all know that petting a dog has many great benefits for humans. Everything feels more uplifting with a dog curled up beside you. Now, that happiness we feel while petting a dog is backed up by science. A study from AERA Open revealed that the benefits of petting a therapy dog can last for up to six weeks, making it the perfect cure for stressed college students.

Your doctor probably won’t give you a prescription for petting a dog, but it can boost your mood and help you stay focused, once again proving that dogs are the best companions.

Man petting puppy

Lasting Effects of Therapy Dogs

A study from 2019 showed that petting a therapy dog for 10 minutes could have benefits for weeks to come. 200 undergraduate students participated in this study. Some got to pet dogs while others did not. Researchers checked the cortisol levels in each student’s saliva, and sure enough, the students who petted dogs had lower cortisol levels short-term.

To elaborate on these findings, another study was conducted. 309 students volunteered to participate in a three-year-long study related to therapy dogs. Each volunteer took a test to determine their stress levels and executive function beforehand. About one-third of the participants had a high risk of stress.

The students were divided into three groups: one with stress management workshops, one with therapy dogs, and one with both. The therapy dog handlers were always present during the study.

College student petting therapy dog
Image: Hanumann via Flickr

The workshop consisted of four weekly, hour-long sessions that discussed ways to prevent stress. In the group with just therapy dogs, individuals could pet dogs while talking about stressors and stress prevention methods. The third group interacted with the dogs while attending the workshop. As you can imagine, the dog groups had the best results with less stress and more focus.

Keep Petting Dogs!

The extended study proved that petting therapy dogs can benefit humans for up to six weeks. The students with low stress levels weren’t affected much, but the students with high stress levels benefitted the most in the second group with only dogs. Even after the study, the volunteers that interacted with dogs saw benefits for up to six weeks.

“The results were very strong,” said study author Patricia Pendry. “We saw that students who were most at risk ended up having most improvements in executive functioning in the human-animal interaction condition. These results remained when we followed up six weeks later.”

Woman petting large dog
Image: totoronoir via Flickr

While stress-relief programs can be beneficial for some students, adding therapy dogs can make them even better. Therapy dogs might not be able to teach you math or science, but they can help reduce your stress, ultimately setting you up for academic success.

So, if you’ve been petting dogs daily, then you’re ahead of the game. Any dog parent knows how beneficial furry friends can be, but it feels good to have it confirmed by solid research too.

Featured Image: Hanumann via Flickr

Recent Articles

Interested in learning even more about all things dogs? Get your paws on more great content from iHeartDogs!

Read the Blog