Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dogs show students: Exams’ bark is worse than bite

Tufts University is throwing stressed-out students a bone therapy dogs to play with during their final exams.

Colleges have long extended library hours and offered extra therapy around test time. Now they're adopting quirky stress-fighting events for students, who face a rough job market in addition to finishing up the semester. From dog visits to free midnight massages to laser tag, students are getting help navigating those last days before turning in final papers and taking finals.

"I hope these puppies make me happy and give me a nice break between studying ... just cut the studying a little bit," 19-year-old Tufts freshman Chloe Wong said Tuesday, petting an Australian shepherd brought in by her resident director.

She called her first semester "challenging." But on Tuesday, the community health major got to relax and play with a set of dogs that resident director Michael Bliss brought in for her and other Tufts students he serves.

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They set down their books, laptops and e-readers for a chance to pet, feed and even chase the therapy animals as media camera bulbs flashed.

"Every college student has stress around finals," said Bliss, who came up with the idea of dog visits after participating in a similar program as an undergraduate at New York University. "And taking a break out from that with something as easy and simple and loving as petting dogs is really helpful."

Therapy dogs have long been used to cheer up the sick and elderly. But more colleges are embracing the idea as a stress reliever and a way to engage students, said Brian Van Brunt, president of the American College Counseling Association.

Schools have been developing more flashy methods over the past 10 years or so by sponsoring stress-busting events ranging from late-night yoga and oxygen bars to some school leaders dressing up as the "pizza fairy" and delivering free food.

"College students are very stressed at this point of the year, and some are playing catch-up," said Van Brunt, also director of counseling and testing at Western Kentucky University. "Going to events like these allows students to clear the brain and press the reset button."