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Puppy playtime to remedy exam stress

An Irish university looks to puppy therapy to relieve students’ exam-time stress


For most, the end of exams means a sigh of relief, a week of intense laziness or even a celebratory pint. At Trinity College Dublin, it means puppies.


TCD students were rewarded for their hard work during exams as the former Students’ Union bookshop was temporarily converted to a play room full of puppies for a day in late April.


Set up by the Students’ Union in collaboration with Peata Ireland, a voluntary organisation that organises pet visits to institutions, the disabled and the elderly, students were allowed to spend up to 15 minutes with the pups in return for a donation to Peata.


‘For exams, it would absolutely be a de-stresser for the students,’ Peata volunteer Joe Treacy told Evoke. ‘It wouldn’t take that much to organise this on a national basis, [with] each university organising in their local area for dogs to come in to the school.’


Students were queuing from early morning for a chance to play with the puppies and relieve their stress through a well-earned study break.


Setting up the puppy playroom has been in the works for a while, TCD Student Union president Tom Lenihan told Evoke. ‘Basically, we had an idea where people can go into a room to pet the dogs and play with the dogs, as part of a less stress week. We looked at different research and we saw it done in the UK, and then the general vibes when we put it to the students and class reps was fantastic.’


‘It’s nothing gimmicky and it’s not just about relaxation, it lifts the whole mood during exam and study periods.’


TCD is not the first to tap into the strategy of using puppies as a chaser to exam stress. US universities Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School have allowed students to ‘rent’ therapy dogs in times of stress, whilst Dalhousie University in Canada launched a similar puppy-play-room initiative in late 2012. In the UK, the University of Aberdeen has sampled the same idea.


Dog therapy, it seems, gets results.  Studies show that playing with or petting an animal reduces production of the stress hormone cortisol, which has marked benefits for physical and mental health. Pet owners were found to be more likely to survive for at least a year after a heart attack, and are generally able to maintain lower blood pressure during times of mental stress. For example, during exams.


‘It’s very rewarding,’ Peata spokesperson Graham Horgan told The Independent. ‘The visitors and dogs enjoy it as much as the people they go to. It’s wonderful to see a little bit of happiness brought to people by something so simple.’


Ireland’s top-ranking university, Trinity College Dublin is a leading world research-intensive institute. The oldest university in Ireland, TCD currently plays host to some 17,000 international students.


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