Stress is an insidious health risk that is commonly reported among university students. While research suggests that dog exposure may facilitate recovery from a stress response, little is known about the buffer effect of dog exposure on the stress response to a future stressor. This study examined whether interaction with a therapy dog could reduce the strength of the physiological stress response when exposed to a subsequent stressor. Sixty-one university students were randomly assigned to either a therapy dog (TD, n = 31) or a no-dog control (C, n = 30) group. The stress response was measured by electrodermal activity (EDA) in response to the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT). Participants also completed questionnaires that assessed pet attitude, general stress levels, and affect. Analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) showed that increase in EDA was significantly more pronounced in the C group than in the TD group (p < 0.01). Pet attitudes did not modulate the buffer effect of therapy dog exposure. Results suggest that therapy dog exposure may buffer the stress response in university students, which has implications for the promotion of a viable stress management program on university campuses.
Keywords: human-animal interaction; intervention; stress; therapy dog.