Dogs to the Rescue

May 29, 2016

How Therapy Dogs are Helping Students Cope with Exam Anxieties

CALGARY, MAY 29, 2016 — What can students do to lessen the stress of cramming for exams? The answer just might be found in a best friend—the four-legged variety. Dogs give unconditional love. And for students dealing with test-time anxieties, dog therapy can help.

Fifty percent of Canadian students report having debilitating anxiety. This anxiety can make them skip classes, defer exams and even drop out of school. Left unchecked, anxiety can have long term effects such as depression and cardiovascular illness. By 2020, mental health disorders will be leading cause of disability, morbidity and mortality in post-secondary students. On campuses across Canada, heath centres will be unable to keep up with the demand for help.

Azra Alibhai of Carleton University is looking at Animal Assisted Therapy, in particular the benefits of dog therapy as a stress reducing intervention for students with test anxiety.

Anxiety is an emotional state of distress where the students have intense feelings of apprehension, worry and tension. Those most at risk for this type of anxiety are females, people with learning disabilities, students in their first year of university and international students.

“Dogs are social animals and can sense how people are feeling,” said Alibhai. “Dogs are also a social lubricant. I’ve seen students who haven’t talked about their anxieties, share their feelings with others as they sit in a group with the dog.”

According to Alibhai, most students suffer in silence and alone. There is a fear of judgment and a stigma associated with traditional therapies. Dogs are non-judgmental and provide endless love and support. 

And dog therapy delivered on campus is fast, cheap and practical because the dogs are mobile. With large dogs, five to ten people can engage with a dog at the same time. The dogs are trained therapy dogs, and are taught to remain calm—not to react to loud noises and to be gentle with the students. Students pet or hug the dog. Some take selfies, while other have the dog do tricks.

There appears to be no stigma associated with the dog therapy. “We’ve had long line ups,” said Alibhai. “Students are flocking to the therapy rooms.”

Most importantly, dog therapy works. The presence of a dog boosts oxytocin levels and lowers blood pressure and students report a decrease in stress. For first year university students and international students the dog therapy not only helps with the test anxiety, but it also helps combat loneliness. Studies have shown that dogs can prolong life and that dog owners are healthier than people without pets. Dogs are more than just our best friends; they can come to our rescue by lessening the anxiety in our lives.

Azra Alibhai will be presenting this research on May 30 at the 2016 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary. This presentation is called “Dogs to the Rescue: A Historical and Contemporary Analysis of Animal Assisted Therapy” and will take place at 1:30 pm at ICT – 114 at the University of Calgary.



About the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress is the largest interdisciplinary conference in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. Now in its 85th year, Congress brings together approximately 70 academic associations that represent a rich spectrum of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including literature, history, theatre, film studies, education, music, sociology, geography, social work and many others. Congress 2016 is hosted by the University of Calgary. For more information, visit

About the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences promotes research and teaching for the advancement of an inclusive, democratic and prosperous society. With a membership now comprising over 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations, the Federation represents a diverse community of 91,000 researchers and graduate students across Canada. The Federation organizes Canada’s largest academic gathering, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, bringing together more than 8,000 participants each year. For more information about the Federation, visit

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