Introduction: Therapy dogs reduce stress and correlate with improved physical and mental health, but effects on cognitive processes, such as memory, are mixed (Trammell, 2017). This presentation describes three completed studies and one in-progress study (expected completion date: February 2018) examining the effect of therapy dogs on stress and memory.
Methodology: 324 men and women (Studies 1-3) and 50 additional participants (recruited for Study 4) interacted with therapy dogs or watched a movie about dogs before taking an exam (Studies 1 and 2), after learning (Study 3), or during studying and testing (Study 4). Exam-related stress was measured before and after both the interaction and the exam. SPSS was used to analyze the relationship between therapy dog interaction, stress, and academic performance.
In study 1 (correlational), those who chose to interact with the therapy dogs scored 5.5 points higher on their final exam, t (125) = –2.18, p = 0.03, d = 0.39, and showed a larger decrease in stress, t (111) = 2.19, p = 0.03, d = 0.41, than those who did not.
In study 2, those who were randomly assigned to interact with dogs immediately before an exam showed reduced stress, t (41) = –2.54, p = 0.02, d = 0.77, but no difference in exam scores compared to those who watched the movie.
In study 3, an interaction revealed that those who were randomly assigned to interact with therapy dogs immediately after learning showed impaired memory for that material, but enhanced memory for material learned at other times, compared to those who watched the movie, F (1, 54) = 4.74, p = 0.03, η2 = 0.08.
Data collection will be completed in February for Study 4, but results are hypothesized to show that those who interact with a therapy dog during both studying and testing will show reduced stress and enhanced memory compared to those who study and test without a dog present.
Conclusions and Implications: Overall, these results show that interaction with therapy dogs can reduce exam-related stress, but has mixed effects on memory. Study 4 is expected to clarify the effects on memory.