Skip to main content

Frankly Health

By Students for Students

Mental Health

How Can People Benefit from Therapy Dogs?

by Barbara Adelson, Eyan Alexander, Chelsea Bitter, Ella Brownson, Thomas Cantwell, Zachary Demars, Sophie Cousineau, Rachael Emadamerho, Ariel Flaisher, Ashley Frenette, Abigail Garnhart, Rebecca Haluch, Shaylyn Harrington, Lauren Hazelwood, Camryn McKeown, Jocelyn Moody, Chloe Pelletier, Kailey Ross, Kiley Vermette, Josie Woolson, & Rebecca Zylak Dr. Bennett Introduction to Health Science Class April 28, 2017


February 9, 2018


Scientists and educators have attempted to find ways to improve efficiency in the classroom. The interest in examining therapy dogs as a resource for educational motivation has increased in recent years as more studies have been conducted regarding this exploration. Numerous studies have found that therapy dogs can have a profound impact on children's performance in school. For younger students, it can help them increase their confidence, focus, participation in class and decrease anxiety. For college students, these dogs help primarily with alleviating stress, and serve as a distraction for students. They take the students’ minds off of their busy schedules. Dogs also help students with disabilities adjust to their surroundings, keep them calm, and aid in their manners while in the classroom.

Improving Education and Learning of College Students

College is a major transition for everyone, but it can be even more of a challenge when you live on campus. For some, this means that you are away from your usual routine and support system for the first time. A study was conducted in the 2006-2007 school year that included 246 freshmen. There were around 50 students split into five groups– each being about different health issues. During the session they were introduced to actual pet therapy dogs interactions. The dogs provided support for the freshmen throughout their first year and opened up new friendships for the students. The pets temporarily filled the absence of a support system and helped establish new social relationships.

Another study was done by the West Chester University in Pennsylvania to identify the benefits of therapy dogs on campus and how they are perceived. The university's counseling center had two main goals : 1) to provide stress relief and comfort to students 2) increase awareness of potential counseling services and provide opportunity to interact with department members in an easy environment. Of the participants, 70% stated that they were now more likely to contact the counseling center. Participants were also asked to rate the effect that therapy dogs had on their day on a scale from 1 to 5; 1 being no effect and 5 being a positive effect. Of the participants, 72% gave a rating of 5. Although there were no conclusive results, this study sets up building blocks for future researchers to do further studies to gain better results.

Aiding Children with Disabilities

The main goal of the study Dog-assisted therapies and activities in rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy and physical and mental disabilities was to "evaluate dog-assisted therapies and activities in the rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy and physical and mental disabilities who have difficulties in benefiting from well-being and health-improving services". The study was conducted in Turkey over several years using children of different ages who have cerebral palsy or other mental disorders. Cerebral Palsy is a condition that impairs muscle coordination, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. The dogs were needed by the kids for emotional support and assistance in the ability to use their bodies according to their capabilities. The researchers came to the conclusion that therapy dogs showed a positive effect in the rehabilitation of the kids.

Another study titled Can Dogs Prime Autistic Children for Therapy, focused on how a therapy dog can affect children with autism. The study was only done on one child who had sessions with his therapist, half with the presence of a trained therapy dog and half without. The therapist led a very strict agenda on both types of sessions, trying to keep the protocol the same. They tested negative and positive reactions of the child. The researchers noted that the negative reaction could have been the disappointment the child felt when the therapy dog was not present. The study, however is limited since only one child was being evaluated. Researchers came to the conclusion that there was quantitative indications that therapy dogs can help children with autism face the demands of the therapy by reducing stress. By having a therapy dog in this child’s therapy session, the child was more equipped to handle his emotions, in return this influenced his quality of life greatly.

In a similar study performed by Andreaa Grigore and Alina Rusu, researchers specializing in Special Education, called Interaction with a Therapy Dog Enhances the Effects of Social Story Method in Autistic Children explored the effects of including therapy dogs in preschool classrooms with Autistic children. This study targeted two social skills: the ability to greet, and the ability to introduce oneself to a social partner. The therapy sessions were conducted with only three preschool students. While unable to measure a few variables such as how effective the social interactions were, the study still showed that the presence of therapy dogs increased the frequency of social initiations. The dogs also helped to decrease the amount of coercion necessary by outsiders to prompt social interaction.

One article focused on the socializing effects of service dogs for people with disabilities. This study, conducted by The University of California, took 19 participants with disabilities downtown and recorded the number of interactions with other people. Then the same participants went downtown, but this time with service dogs. In this trial, the interactions with other people increased dramatically (from about one interaction to eight). Approaches by children also increased when the dog was present. Also 11 out of the 19 participants attributed to leaving their houses more after receiving the therapy dogs due to a feeling a safety and approach-ability. This study was repeated and similar conclusions came out of the second trial. It was concluded that therapy dogs had a significant and positive effect on the socialization of individuals with disabilities.

Increasing Physical Activity

In this research study conducted by Obrusnikova and Cavalier, The Delaware Adapted Sports Club through the University of Delaware decided to integrate therapy dog teams for four children with ASD in the sports club. The main goal of this experiment was to increase the amount of daily physical activity advocated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by introducing the dogs into the program at different stations. The stations included a range of different types of sports for about one hour twice a week. The dog teams were recruited from PAWS for People, a nonprofit organization located in Newark, Delaware. PAWS for People's therapy dogs are selected for temperaments that include the characteristics of calmness, patience, and tolerance for a wide range of actions and noises from humans and the environment around them. Overall, the conducted research has demonstrated physiological, physical, social, and emotional benefits of therapy-dog-assisted interventions for children with disabilities.


The information provided is intended for factual purposes only, not to suggest or provide medical advice to you, the reader. Consult a medical professional with further questions or concerns regarding the information listed.



(1) Adamle, Kathleen N., RN, PhD, AOCN, Tracy A. Riley, RN, PhD, and Tracey Carlson, RN, MSN. "Evaluating college student interest in pet therapy." Journal of American College Health 57.5 (2009): 545-48. Web.

(2) Bassette, L. A., & Taber-doughty, T. The Effects Of a Dog Reading Visitation Program On Academic Engagement Behavior in Three Elementary Students With Emotional And Behavioral Disabilities: A Single Case Design. Child & Youth Care Forum, Vol. 42, Issue 3, pp. 239-256. Web.

(3) Daltry R, Mehr K. Therapy Dogs on Campus: Recommendations for Counseling Center Outreach. Journal Of College Student Psychotherapy. January 2015, Vol. 29, Issue 1, pp. 72- 78. Web. January 29, 2017.

(4) Elliot, P. Do Therapy Dogs In Schools Improve Student Performance? Retrieved from Elmac─▒ D, Cevizci S. Dog-assisted therapies and activities in rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy and physical and mental disabilities. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health. May 12, 2015, Vol. 12, Issue 5, pp. 5046-5060.

(5) Grigore A, Rusu A. Interaction with a Therapy Dog Enhances the Effects of Social Story Method in Autistic Children. Society & Animals [serial online]. June 2014;22(3):241-261. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed January 29, 2017.


(7) Obrusnikova, I., Bibik, J. M., Cavalier, A. R., & Manley, K. Integrating therapy dog teams in a physical activity program for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Vol. 83, Issue 6, pp. 37-41,47-48.

(8) Silva, Karine, et al. "Can Dogs Prime Autistic Children for Therapy? Evidence from a Single Case Study." Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), vol. 17, no. 7, July 2011, pp. 655-659.

About the Author

This piece was written in Dr. Tom Bennett’s Spring 2016/2017 BI 121 Introduction to Health Science class as a group research project. Each student in the class researched and contributed to this paper.