Dogs have been a fixture on college campus for years as team mascots. But more and more, they are being brought to live at institutions of higher learning to relieve students’ often considerable stress. The University of South Carolina, for instance, has recently adopted therapy puppy Indy. Once her training is complete, she will hold office hours at the school’s Student Health Services. The University of California also has a campus facility dog — Beau, a black goldendoodle who spends time ratcheting down students’ anxiety at the campus’s health center.
It’s all just cutesy frivolity, right?
Nope. Happy interactions with a dog can create a sense of calm and well-being — no surprise since petting a dog helps trigger the release of serotonin and other neuro-chemicals considered mood lifters. It also reduces concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol.
Being with a friendly, adorable dog isn’t a solution to long-term psychological issues, of course. But in the last several years, university counseling centers have seen an uptick in students seeking help for mental health concerns, with anxiety constituting the lion’s share of those concerns but stress and depression accounting for visits to health services, too. If petting a dog can ratchet down the unsettling feelings, even just for a bit, and perhaps allow an anxious student to calm down enough to gain a bit of new perspective, then a canine “social worker” is worth having around.