Importance: The mental health crisis among college graduate students requires cost-effective interventions to support the increasing number of students experiencing negative mental health symptoms.
Objective: To assess the effects of a canine-assisted intervention (CAI) on student well-being, including quality of life (QOL), stress, anxiety, occupational performance, and adjustment to the graduate college student role.
Design: Random assignment to a treatment or control group.
Setting: College campus.
Participants: A total of 104 college student participants were randomly assigned to either the treatment (n = 53) or control (n = 51) condition.
Intervention: Treatment consisted of 35-min weekly sessions over 6 wk.
Outcomes and Measures: QOL, stress, anxiety, and occupational role.
Results: An analysis of covariance revealed that, compared with participants in the control condition, participants who interacted with therapy dogs had significantly higher self-reports of QOL (p < .001) and decreased anxiety scores (p < .045). Within-subject paired t tests confirmed significant stress reductions for participants in the treatment condition (p < .000). No significant differences in self-reports of occupational performance or in adjustment to the graduate college student role were found.
Conclusions and Relevance: These findings add to the body of literature attesting to the efficacy of CAIs in supporting student well-being and optimizing learning conditions. Moreover, this study demonstrated that graduate students in a professional program responded favorably to spending time with therapy dogs. Implications for CAIs and university mental health programming are discussed.
What This Article Adds: A CAI may be a valuable tool for students and young adults experiencing mental health challenges, such as stress, anxiety, and decreased QOL.