Dr Patricia Pendry; objective evidence to support canine assisted interventions in universities

Written by Lisa Pygott

According to research from Washington State University, scientists found that stress among students really can be reduced with specialist canine interaction.
The study of more than 300 undergraduates found that students felt ‘relaxed and accepted’ during the hour long ‘soothing’ sessions.

This comes as no surprise to CAL, as we witness this daily in our work with young people and adults, both in education and the workplace. Our specialist practitioner and dog teams skilfully use our dogs as communication tools to not only relax the student, but to help them develop coping strategies to regulate their emotions.

Having successfully supported staff and students at Surrey university, the Sixth Form College, Farnborough and the Berkshire College of Agriculture during mental health awareness campaigns and during exams, CAL attended the Festival for Higher Education at Buckingham University last week. Accompanied by School Assistance Dog, Rosie, Lisa Pygott learnt more about concerns for student mental health especially during the transition between college and university with the aim of using our dog teams to facilitate this in Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey. You can listen to the podcast here https://vimeo/344767849

Of course Buckingham’s Vice Chancellor, Sir Anthony Seldon is a pioneer and advocate of the benefits of dogs; infact Rosie was introduced to the resident Buckingham University Dogs, Millie and Darcy! His philosophy aligns with ours, that a proactive approach to mental health is preferable to a reactive one. An engaging, sociable, trained dog promotes conversation in a relaxed, non judgemental way and, as Hamish Elvidge states, it could just be the conversation, the lifeline that that student needs. There are too many suicides in Higher Education.

Universities span two major transitions in students’ lives; from sixth form to university and then from university to the workplace. A 2016 YouGov survey reported that over a quarter of students were diagnosed with mental ill health.  75% of MH problems manifest themselves by the age of 24. So at a time when students move miles away from home away from their families, support networks and pets, perhaps experiment with alcohol and new relationships, living in isolated en-suite rooms whilst dealing with study pressures and financial constraints….having regular conversations with dog teams could just release that pressure valve before it becomes overloaded. Proactive, not reactive.

Again agreeing with Hamish Elvidge’s recommendations for student wellbeing; connect with people, be active (by walking the dogs), taking notice of the world around you…canine interaction ticks those boxes. And it’s exactly what we at CAL hope to develop further as we continue our efforts to bring the benefits of dogs to those at university. We wholeheartedly welcome Dr Pendry’s findings.