Pet therapy brings paw-sitive benefits for students
Dick Vet staff and students co-design pioneering project to deliver benefits of time spent with dogs.
Furry, four-legged friends are at the heart of a wellbeing programme that plans to draw on dogs’ natures to enhance student welfare at the University of Edinburgh.
Paws on Campus – a first of its kind in the UK – could provide a novel style of support for students experiencing stress and anxiety. During the sessions, students spend an hour with a therapy dog, in a range of canine-assisted wellbeing exercises including mindfully interacting with the dog, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques.
The programme was co-designed by students and staff from the University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and School of Health in Social Science.
Each session focuses on specific learning outcomes and therapeutic objectives that have been designed to help students reflect on their own challenges and recognise the connections between their wellbeing and an animal’s welfare needs.
The sessions flow really well, and it has been great learning the various grounding and awareness techniques that you can also do in your own time. I found it made mindfulness – something that I struggled with before - so much easier when there is a dog to focus on.
Paws on Campus has been trialled in collaboration with Canine Concern Scotland’s Therapets Service, which provided the registered dogs and their handlers.
The programme’s use of psychological principles differs to other pet therapies, being the first of its kind to combine student mental health and animal welfare through a series of planned sessions.
The Paws on Campus programme builds on studies conducted at the University of Washington in the US and University of British Columbia in Canada.
Creators of the programme, Professor Jo Williams and Laura Wauthier at the School of Health in Social Science, and Dr Andrew Gardiner from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, are hoping that it can deliver benefits to students.
Following trial sessions towards the end of 2022, the team is looking into ways to link the programme with the University’s student wellbeing services.
Paws on Campus is a great opportunity to have fun, learn about the subtle cues that dogs use to communicate and provide students with a range of skills to support their wellbeing. We are hoping that the project will create a framework for university campus dog programmes that can be used nationally and internationally.
Perhaps more than most, vet students understand the well-being benefits to be had from interacting with animals. They are also aware that such sessions should be fun and anxiety-free for the animals too, so an important part of the programme will be to assess the impact on the volunteer dogs as well as the participating humans.
The Paws on Campus programme has been supported by the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme for the first year to refine the sessions and put in place an evaluation framework to ensure it meets the needs of students.
The University of Edinburgh offers a range of counselling and wellbeing services to its students, including to one-to-one counselling, a 24/7 Listening Service, wellbeing workshops, and guided self-help and online support packages.
Images: Neil Hanna Photography
About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than 800 staff and almost 1400 students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.
The School comprises:
The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems
The Hospital for Small Animals
The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education
We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.