The incredible way dogs can help college students

Closeup Photo of Brown and Black Dog Face (Pexels/

When you’re homesick, finding something to remind you of home can help combat those feelings of loneliness. For some, that may be a comfort blanket or stuffed animal. Some people may recreate family recipes. Still, others may be missing their pets from home. Some universities are adopting therapy animal programs, which can help students missing their own animals, or students who are just overwhelmed with school and need a fun break.

These therapy animals can provide mental and physical health benefits while acting as a comfort source. Studies have shown that therapy animals can have both physical and emotional benefits, like reduced blood pressure, a sense of comfort, and decreased anxiety. Students who are in college and may be living away from home for the first time may feel comfort from therapy dogs that can remind them of their own pets.

“[College students] are away from home and missing their own dogs, and the dog is the easiest way to start a conversation with someone, even if the student is shy,” Billie Smith, Executive Director of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs said.

When the dogs visit college campuses, their main goal is to relax the students that they interact with.

“[It] depends on the venue, but they are always being petted and loved on by whoever is receiving their visit that day,” Smith said. “[The dogs] might see one person or many people in one visit. They interact by standing still or laying down and allowing someone to just spend time with them, petting and talking to them.”

Macomb Community College student Kristen Torrice experienced how therapy animals can help people.

“There were a lot of girls running around and screaming, ‘There are puppies on campus,’ so I ran outside the P Building, and there were puppies and kittens,” Torrice said. “We have puppies and kittens on campus for veterinary students, but they were being used as therapy animals during finals. All I could think about was finals, and I was stressed, but then when I was holding the kitten, my focus shifted and it made me happy. I think more schools should offer therapy animal sessions, because if students are really stressed, they might not do as well on their exams. You don’t want a stressful environment, especially for newer students who are in their first semesters of college. Schools should show that they care about their students and want to help.”

According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 30% of college students said that their performance in school was affected by stress. Torrice says that therapy animals can have an effect on people who struggle when coping with stress.

“I think everyone can benefit from a therapy animal,” Torrice said. “I have a friend, Olivia, and she has ADD. She has anxiety, too, and I remember her being really stressed the day we saw the animals. She held a golden retriever puppy, and she was just so calm and happy with the puppy.”

Smith said that when choosing therapy animals, they want “a dog that seeks attention, is calm, doesn't mind anyone and everyone approaching it.”

“There's a lot of work that goes in to a therapy dog or training on good basic obedience skills and good manners, to tons and tons of socializing with people and other dogs,” Smith said. “If you have a dog that is already tolerant as a puppy of people and different situations, the training comes natural to them.”

Since therapy dogs can be used for many different people in many different situations, there is a need for many of them.

“This type of volunteering is growing, and no matter how many teams an organization has, the demand for this type of service can never be met,” Smith said. “[There are] so many facilities and different venues, along with home visits keeps everyone busy and there is always a need for more teams. I've been doing it for 27 years and I've seen the good that this type of therapy work does. It's the best thing you can do with your dog and you are helping people out while you are spending quality time with your dog. It's a win-win for all involved.”

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