Could petting a pooch solve exam stress?

By Huw Williams
BBC Scotland reporter

image captionHolly works with children suffering from dog phobia

Counsellors at the University of Edinburgh are drafting in therapy pets, to help stressed students cope with their exams.

The claimed benefits of petting dogs or cats are well established for care home residents or long-term hospital patients.

But this is the first time the charity Canine Concern has worked in education.

Andrew Burnie, from Edinburgh University Student's Association, said it was "an excellent new initiative".

image captionJenny Leeder says exam stress gets students talking about other worries

And Dr Jenny Leeder, assistant director of the University's Counselling Service told BBC radio's "Good Morning Scotland" programme that exam season was one of the peak times for the service.

She said: "Students are very concerned about their upcoming exams. But that stress is the straw that breaks the camel's back."

"It might be that they start talking about other things that are going on in their lives, such as loneliness or depression, anxiety. There might be things going on at home, if they've suffered a bereavement, or something like that."

"So exam nerves sometimes bring out the other difficulties that a student might be experiencing."

Douglas Ruthven from Canine Concern, the charity supplying the so-called therapy pets, says "interacting with a dog causes the release of things called endorphins into the blood".

And he says dogs like Holly the collie "love the attention" they get.

"Holly has been a therapet for over 12 years. She spent most of that time visiting patients in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, a psychiatric hospital. But she's also done a lot of work with children."

image captionDouglas Ruthven from Canine Concern and Holly the collie

"Nowadays she's semi-retired, but I use her quite a lot to assist psychologists in the treatment of children with dog phobia. Serious dog phobia."

"These children are so affected by the sight of a dog in the street that they can't go into a public park, they can't go to the beach. Their lifestyle is quite restricted."

Dr Jenny Leeder says the university counselling service does advise students on how to plan their revision, and do all the work they need to pass their exams.

But, she says, "some students are so conscientious that they have done an awful lot of work ... and yet still get wound up and stressed about how they're going to perform."

"So it may be that a little bit of working with a dog can just take the edge off, and calm them down."

The counselling service and the charity hope to survey students who take the opportunity to pet one of the dogs being made available, in a bid to measure the benefits they get from the sessions.

Therapet sessions will take place in the University's Teviot Dining Hall on 23 and 30 April and at the King's Buildings on the 8 May.

The University of Aberdeen recently announced it was working with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, to allow students to play with young puppies in a bid to relieve stress.

More on this story

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.