Canines On Campus : How Dog Therapy Results In Better Student Outcomes

Canine inclusivity on college campuses is shaping the future of mental health for the better, and resulting in better student outcomes.

Canines On Campus : How Dog Therapy Results In Better Student Outcomes
Dogs are fitting right in to college life with the students.

The popular image of college life is largely a product of pop culture – a mishmash of raucous parties, overnight study sessions, and copious amounts of Instant Ramen. All of which tend to feed into this romanticized chaos of university experience. However, these 'golden years' are frequently a time of great uncertainty, and loneliness for many students. Research continues to point to a mental health epidemic on college campuses, with students reporting record levels of anxiety and depression due to compounding emotional stressors.

That said, a higher percentage of students are seeking out help than in the past – with a 7 percent increase in mental health counseling since 2020. In response to the growing demand for mental health support, universities are routinely incorporating a popular initiative for campus wellness: dog therapy programs.

This increasingly popular staple to university life aims to mitigate college students' academic and social pressures by offering crucial moments of respite, comfort, and connection with a four-legged friend. The efficacy of this form of animal-assisted therapy is well-documented in scientific studies, which consistently conclude that therapy dogs can improve mood and psychological well-being during periods of high stress.

Because of their stress-relieving lure, dog therapy sessions on campuses have become high-demand events, with students apt to line up for the chance to pet and cuddle with the visiting pooches. Not only is this a clear sign of humanity's deep-rooted emotional bond with dogs but it coincides with a changing approach to campus wellness that strives for greater accessibility of non-judgmental outlets for mental health support.

Four-Legged Therapists

We all know that dogs bring instant joy, so it's no surprise that visiting or resident therapy dogs quickly become campus celebrities. Take Concordia University's resident four-legged therapist - a Portuguese water dog named Newton.


At just five months old, Newton the Portuguese water dog is making a big impression with students. As Concordia's new therapy dog, getting belly rubs is his job. In fact, Newton is Quebec's first-ever full time therapy dog stationed in a university. #dog #puppy #concordia #university #montreal #therapydog #stress #anxiety #dogsoftiktok #canada #news #ctvnews

♬ original sound - CTVNews

Or the lovely Mr.Cleo at Bryant University, who can be found comforting students in "stress-free zones" within the university library.


Meet Mr. Cleo, the rescue dog that helps students de-stress during finals! 🐶 What's going on at Bryant University is part of a growing trend on college campuses -- offering pet therapy in what they call "stress-free zones" in spaces like the library. #dog #rescuedog #collegestudents #stress #pettherapy #finals #university

♬ original sound - The National Desk

Given that many students have to leave their pups behind to come to college, a canine presence around campus can help bring comfort to residents who are having trouble feeling at home in their new environment.

Even just a few minutes with a therapy dog can act as an emotional reset for students, providing a moment of unconditional acceptance - a break from the endless churn of deadlines. These moments of connection can reignite a sense of belonging and communal support that is often eroded by the isolation of intense academic focus.

As a recurrent new extension of university counseling services, dog therapy continues to grow and evolve with much enthusiasm. However, there are potential hurdles to consider when it comes to refining wellness initiatives on college campuses and beyond.

Potential Hurdles

Ensuring the well-being of the therapy dogs, aligning with health and safety regulations, and coordinating programs for optimal accessibility on campus are just a few of the logistical hurdles institutions face. It's the same kind of red tape that any dog-friendly business encounters – that is, standard considerations regarding dog ownership, training, and certification.

To address these potential hurdles, let's briefly break down the basics of how pups train to become therapy dogs and how the job of these canines differs from that of emotional support animals. From which, we can better discuss how dog therapy programs can be efficiently expanded for enhanced campus life.

Therapy Dogs in Training

The journey of a therapy dog begins with basic obedience training to ensure they can handle diverse environments and remain calm and comforting in various situations. These dogs are taught to interact gently with strangers and remain unfazed amidst the bustling atmosphere of a college campus.


How Dr. Spencer Reid got credentialed as a therapy dog 🐶 #therapydog #therapydogsoftiktok #therapydogtraining #therapydogcredentials #therapydogcredentialing #therapyanimal #animaltherapy #animalassistedtherapy

♬ Together (Instrumental) - Louis Stephens

Dog therapy programs abide by strict policies regarding hygiene, behavior, and animal welfare, and facilitate their events in safe, controlled settings. Regular 'office hours' for therapy dogs, special events during high-stress periods like exams, and 'meet and greet' sessions are some ways colleges are popularly integrating these furry therapists into campus life.

Additionally, programs regularly monitor and evaluate the therapy dogs’ performance and well-being, as well as the effectiveness of the program in achieving its goals of mental health improvement at partnered universities. Feedback from staff and students is gathered to highlight any outstanding concerns or questions, making dog therapy events increasingly accessible and enjoyable for all.

Therapy Dogs vs. Emotional Support Animals

While therapy dogs are becoming a fixture on campuses, it’s important to distinguish them from emotional support animals (ESAs). Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort to multiple individuals and are typically part of a certified program.

On the other hand, emotional support animals are prescribed by a mental health professional for a specific individual. ESAs are personal companions that aid their owner in managing a mental health condition. Although they are not required to undergo the extensive training that therapy dogs do, ESAs play a crucial role in the lives of those they support.

The documentation process to 'enroll' ESAs can vary from university to university. Qualifying conditions that can warrant an ESA letter range from PTSD to Agoraphobia to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Though you may be allowed to live with your permitted ESA, they may not be allowed to accompany you to your lectures, the library, or other public places on campus. This is because their presence is solely for one-on-one support, not guaranteed for more large-scale, public interactions.

How Can Colleges Become More Canine Inclusive?

  1. Dog-Friendly Housing

To accommodate students who own dogs or those who benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal, universities can offer dog-friendly housing options. This could include designated dormitories or apartment complexes on campus where dogs are allowed, complete with proper amenities like dog parks and walking trails.

Though dog ownership should not be taken lightly, it should also not face unnecessary barriers for university students. By creating a foundation for both therapy dogs and ESAs to make a home on college campuses, the mental health crisis in higher education can more readily turn to personalized long-term solutions instead of stress-management band-aids.

  1. Canine-Centric Community Events

With the proper dog-friendly structures in place (as noted above), campuses are better equipped to initiate community events that draw upon the enduring canine-human bond. Beyond campus-wide dog therapy events, the coordination of dog walking groups, dog adoption fairs, dog parades, and dog ownership information sessions are advantageous to consider. All of which expand the dog-friendly standard beyond just periodic events for student stress reduction and toward true community-building efforts.

After all, for many students, a college campus is the first (and perhaps only) walkable community they inhabit in their lives. Animal-friendly events are a wonderful way to play to the strengths of the integrated campus structure and allow students new and convenient opportunities to connect with others outside their classes or dorms.

  1. Revamped Counseling Services

The incorporation of therapy dogs into counseling and wellness services can revolutionize the support offered to students. The presence of a therapy dog in a counseling center can lend more comfort and ease and establish an inviting, laid-back environment for those seeking help.

That said, finding the most efficient mode of implementation and scheduling for today's four-legged therapists is still a work in progress for many universities. Students recognize that a once-a-year dog therapy event for finals season, though a nice gesture, doesn't wholly meet the overwhelming demand of today's mental health crisis. With this in mind, one way to begin to expand access to animal therapy programs is to have designated 'drop-in' hours for students instead of just scheduled meet-and-greets tied to counseling appointments.

Holistic Campus Wellness

Therapy dogs do more than just aid in emotional support and stress reduction; they're guiding us toward a deeper understanding of the healing power of connection—redefining the very experience of college life. Canine inclusivity as a whole allows for a more holistic approach to campus wellness, tending to the variety of mental, social, and emotional factors facing young adults today. This more comprehensive approach challenges the standard narrative of the college experience as one of mental and emotional strain - overextending one's efforts and energy until the point of collapse.

Altogether, turning to the creation of more dog-friendly initiatives on college campuses allows for deeper consideration of how our environment restores or drains us. Along these lines, canine-friendly campuses (much like canine-friendly hotels, cafes, etc) are proving themselves increasingly tenable to implement with far-reaching social benefits – reminding us to reorient our lives around uplifting and accessible community structures that bolster a sense of belonging and cherish the steadfast role of canine companions in our lives.

For more on canine inclusivity, keep reading along here!