Feeling Stressed? Try A Therapy Dog

Dec 1, 2016

There are lots of reasons you might be stressed out this time of year: the holidays, post-election angst, and for students, soon it will be finals. One Utah group is trying to relieve some of that stress. And to do it, they're using dogs. 

At the school of social work on the University of Utah campus, streams of students are passing through the lobby. Three of them stop when they see a big, curly haired puppy with a jingle bell collar.

"This is Harper. She’s a year and a half golden doodle," says Jeannine Thalman. Thalman is Harper’s owner and a dog handler with Therapy Animals of Utah. They’re on campus this week to try to help lower the stress level students might be feeling as finals approach.

The idea may seem cute, but according to the organization’s Executive Director, Deborah Carr, there’s real science behind it.

"What happens with us when we like animals and we’re close to animals, is we get a hit from that pharmacy in our brain of oxytocin," Carr says. 

That’s the chemical that helps us relax by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. It also wards off cortisol, a stress hormone, that can make it harder to focus under pressure. 

"It’s great for escaping sabretooth tigers, but not so good for getting through your daily life," Carr says. 

Which, for these students, includes the stresses of campus life. They're juggling a lot, one student explains. "Finals and everything all piled up together and projects cause it’s the end of the semester."

"So does this help?" Thalman asks. 

"Yeah, it definitely does," she says. 

Therapy Animals of Utah works year round, not just during college finals.