You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but new research shows that a new approach to in-person canine visits to reduce stress can provide benefits for student well-being. Associate Professor Christine Tardif-Williams from the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University, along with Associate Professor John-Tyler Binfet from the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan, recently completed a study to determine whether virtual time spent with animals might be equally effective in enhancing well-being, reducing negative affect, and increasing positive affect during in-person animal visits.
“We now know from a number of studies that animal or dog-assisted interventions work very well in relieving students’ stress, reducing homesickness and loneliness, and increasing positive affect and feelings. social connections on campus for undergraduates,” says TardifWilliams.
After the pandemic, Tardif-Williams and Binfet, who is also director of UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention through K9s (BARK) program, began having conversations about supporting student wellbeing in an online context. They received a Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada titled “Undergraduate Student Stress Reduction through Virtual Canine Comfort” to find out if virtual tours could help them.
Their findings are shared in a new article, “Virtual canine comfort: a randomized controlled trial of the effects of a dog-assisted intervention on the well-being of undergraduate students», published in Anthrozoös at the end of April.
The article describes a study in which more than 460 students participated in live and synchronous or recorded and asynchronous virtual sessions with a dog and a trainer.
While the students virtually visited the dog, the trainer followed a scenario asking questions about the stress in the participant’s life. After the session, the researchers measured stress, loneliness, and other measures of well-being, as well as positive and negative affect.
Although the sessions lasted only five to seven minutes, the results showed that they were effective in reducing stress and improving well-being, whether synchronous or asynchronous.
“I think in some ways it’s really appealing to young people, from remote or remote learners to those who don’t seek mental health services for various reasons,” says Tardif-Williams, who researched in-depth on the close relationships between young people. and animals and has taught a course on Pets in the Lives of Children and Youth for the past decade. “The dog and handler can bring people together to start a conversation about wellness, and I think it has the potential to reach a lot of diverse students.”
Tardif-Williams emphasizes that the modules are intended to be used as a first step towards the comprehensive mental health services provided on campus, rather than a substitute.
However, because the videos are inexpensive, low-barrier, and available online whenever students need them, she thinks the research, which is ongoing, holds great promise.
“Now we’ve polished the asynchronous videos, with the help of a videographer and others from the research team, and produced a series of six videos,” Tardif-Williams explains. “Nearly 250 participants from 41 different countries have now watched these clips.”
Those interested in participating in the next phase of the study are encouraged to visit @barkubc on Instagram. Participation only takes a few minutes and will support ongoing research into the impact of virtual dog sessions on stress reduction.