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Cuddling a dog is good for your health, and new research from a B.C. university proves it

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Cuddling a dog - tummy rubs, ear scritches and nuzzles - has now been proven to increase wellbeing.

New research from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, which evaluated the effects of dog therapy for students, shows that physical contact with canine support animals is key to increasing wellbeing.

The research, conducted through the school’s education program in co-ordination with UBCO’s dog therapy program for students, was published in the Anthrozoös journal.

The team assessed the wellbeing of 284 undergraduate students based on surveys before and after a visit with a pooch through UBCO’s Building Academic Retention Through K-9s 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,” said lead author and UBC associate professor John-Tyler Binfet.

“We knew that spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial but we didn’t know why.”

A control group was created to account for the impact of a dog’s handler, which meant that some students met only with the handler for a support session. And while some of the participants got to touch and cuddle the pups, others were only allowed to watch the dogs.

Before the sessions, participants reported on their wellbeing. The study recorded their self-perceptions of flourishing, positive and negative affect, social connectedness, happiness, integration into the campus community, stress, homesickness and loneliness.

The results confirmed what most people who live with a dog might guess: the students who got to touch the dogs reported the most improvements.

“Participants across all conditions experienced increased wellbeing on several of the measures, with more benefit when a dog was present, (and) with the most benefit coming from physical contact with the dog,” reads a UBCO news statement about the study.

“Notably, the touch contact with a therapy dog group was the only one that saw a significant enhancement across all measures,” it continues.

The research results could provide guidance for educators, school administrators and students as schools return to in-person learning this fall.

“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,” says Binfet.

“That’s a surefire way to reduce stress.” Top Stories

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