Therapy Dogs Improve Student Affect but Not Memory

Janet P. Trammell, Pepperdine University


While students are increasingly struggling with anxiety and depression, the effects of therapy dogs on student stress has only recently been explored. This study was conducted to investigate whether therapy dogs can improve student affect and to determine if these benefits extend to cognition in the form of enhanced ability to remember information. Forty-four college students were randomly assigned to interact with a therapy dog or not during both learning (session 1) and testing (session 2) in a paired-associates procedure. Arousal, stress, and mood were measured at the beginning and end of each session. As predicted, therapy dogs increased happiness and decreased stress and arousal. However, there was no difference in recognition memory for the paired associates between the therapy dog and control conditions. Mood was a significant predictor of memory, such that decreased happiness in session 2 predicted better recognition performance. These findings indicate that the benefits of therapy dogs are primarily affective and not cognitive.