Study Uses Science to Confirm That Cuddling a Dog Is Good for Your Health

·2 min read
embracing dog
embracing dog

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Anyone who owns a dog knows that a little belly rub goes a long way.

And it turns out, cuddling a dog is proven to benefit a person's wellbeing, according to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia Okanagan. The school's education program assessed the mental state of 284 undergraduate students before and after they met with a service dog from their Building Academic Retention Through K-9s (BARK) program.

"There have been a number of studies that have found canine-assisted interventions significantly improve participants' wellbeing, but there has been little research into what interactions provide the greatest benefits," the study's lead author Dr. John-Tyler Binfet said in a statement. "We know that spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial, but we didn't know why."

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Participants were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions: canine interaction treatment conditions, touch or no touch canine interaction, or a handler-only condition where no dog was present. Researchers asked participating students before and after the interactions to measure their self-perceptions of flourishing, positive and negative affect, social connectedness, happiness, integration into the campus community, stress, homesickness, and loneliness.

"Results indicate that participants across all conditions experienced enhanced wellbeing on several measures; however, only those in the direct contact condition reported significant improvements on all measures of wellbeing," the study states.

"Additionally, direct interactions with therapy dogs through touch elicited greater wellbeing benefits than did no touch/indirect interactions or interactions with only a dog handler."

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Binfet recommends other schools consider canine-assisted intervention programs, along with mental health and wellness programs. The program should be particularly beneficial as students prepare to return to in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As students potentially return to in-person class on their college campuses this fall and seek ways to keep their stress in check, I'd encourage them to take advantage of the therapy dog visitation program offered. And once there — be sure to make time for a canine cuddle," Dr. Binfet said. "That's a surefire way to reduce stress."