The Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Students’ Mental Health and in Schools?

Spending time with our pets has been shown to reduce stress levels and improve health and well-being, and these are just some of the same benefits of therapy dogs in schools. However, colleges and universities rarely allow pets in dorm rooms (though there are some exceptions!). So how can you reap the benefits of pets while you’re away from home? That’s where college therapy dogs come in!

What Are Therapy Dogs?

Therapy dogs are dogs that visit a college campus and provide “therapy” in the way of hugs, pets, and play for students, faculty, and staff. Those on campus can interact with the dogs in between finals, classes, and assignments. Therapy dogs (as well as cats and other animals) have also been shown to benefit those in nursing homes, in high-stress jobs, and at K-12 schools. 

Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Schools

For many of us, hanging out with a dog can be a lot of fun, but therapy dogs on college campuses have shown to have a whole host of benefits for students and staff in schools including:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety levels.
  • Lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
  • Offering something to look forward to during stressful times.
  • Improved mental health.
  • Offering distractions.
  • Helping with homesickness, loneliness, and isolation.
  • Could assist with depression.
  • Improved mood and oxytocin serotonin levels.
  • Reduced levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

What Colleges Currently Have Therapy Dog Programs?

More than 60% of colleges in the United States currently have a pet therapy program in place! Here are four that have seen success with their program:


Although not necessarily a therapy dog, Yale University has a history of association with dogs: Handsome Dan! The official school mascot, there has been a bulldog at the school since 1889. Handsome Dan XiX is an Olde English Bulldogge.

Over 10 years ago, Yale saw the start of their dog therapy program with Monty. Officially named General Montgomery, Monty was the Yale Law School Therapy Dog. He was introduced to the school’s library to help with students’ stress levels, especially in those first few years of school. Those who visited got a 15 to 20-minute session with the older pup!

Today, Heidi has been working on campus with the Yale Police Department since 2020. She was onsite to calm nerves for COVID-19 vaccination shots and for when students finally returned to campus to help newcomers (and older students) relax! It’s even said that Heidi is best friends with Handsome Dan!

University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut has a very large therapy dog program! Every Thursday at the Cordial Storrs House between 5 and 7 pm, there are dogs there for students, faculty, and staff to interact with. Volunteers bring in their trained pups to spend time with visitors and there is a wide range of breeds that come for a visit.

Andy, for example, is a Golden Retriever that participates in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study to help find a cure for canine cancer. Oliver is a 3-year-old boxer who is nearly deaf, loves snuggling, and is definitely a lap dog. And Seneca is a Labrador Retriever that competes in the American Kennel Club and even holds titles at the masters level! 

The full list of dogs that will come to campus, and when they’ll be at the Cordial Storrs House, can be found on the UConn website.

Rochester Institute of Technology

The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has therapy dogs visit the campus once a month. The program was introduced in 2018 after a student showed the impact they can have on students’ well-being, mental health, and stress levels.

In 2019, the Wallace Library was the host of a therapy dog event during the library’s Destress Fest. The monthly events see about 200 to 300 students attend to spend time with the visiting pups, but there have been times when over 400 students showed up! 

University of Minnesota 

The Boynton Health’s Pet Away Worry & Stress (PAWS) Program at the University of Minnesota features more animals than just dogs (though dogs are definitely there, too). Visiting students, staff, and faculty can also interact with bunnies, cats, chickens, and more – and the program is even open to the community! The event happens four times a week around campus and over 100 animal teams participate. And 9 out of 10 students have said the event helped them manage their stress levels.

If you’re curious about what types of animals can be found in the PAWS Program, they have an Instagram page! You can also learn more about upcoming events, frequently asked questions, and more on the dedicated page for the program.

For those of us with pets, we know they can mean the world to us. When we’re away from home though, you’re not just missing your human family – you’re likely missing your animal family, too. Whether that’s a cat, a dog, a bird, or something else, that homesickness can have an impact on your mental health. Thankfully, these therapy dog and animal programs can help fill that gap, assist with stress levels, and improve overall well-being.

Do you want to know if you’re a good fit for the colleges and universities listed above, or if you’re a good fit for another school with a pet therapy program? Our College Match tool will help you identify the best schools for your wants, needs, and achievements!

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