Animal-assisted therapy, such as interactions with pet dogs, can help university students combat homesickness as well as reduce drop-out rates, a new study has found.
“Transitioning from high school to university can prove to be a challenge for many first-year students,” said John Tyler Binfet, Assistant Professor at University of British Columbia in Canada.
“Given that students who experience homesickness are more likely than their non-homesick cohorts to drop out of university, universities have a vested interest in supporting students during their first-year transition,” Tyler said.
In the study, 44 first-year university students who self-identified as homesick were given a survey to measure levels of homesickness, satisfaction with life and connectedness with campus.
Half of the students completed eight weeks of dog therapy, while the other half were informed that their sessions would begin in eight weeks’ time.
Dog therapy included 45-minute weekly sessions involving small group interactions with the dogs and handlers, and engagement with other first-year students participating in the study.
Following the initial eight-week session, participants in both the treatment group and the non-treatment group completed the survey again.
Participants who completed the eight-week programme experienced significant reductions in homesickness and greater increase in satisfaction with life.
Participants reported that sessions “felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies.”
While the non-treatment group reported an increase in their feelings of homesickness.
A total of 29 per cent of students who dropped out cited more interactions and friendships with other students as a factor that would have influenced their decision to stay longer.
A university’s ability to influence campus connections could be a useful tool in lowering drop-out rates in first-year students, said Binfet.
“Many first-year university students face the challenge of integrating into their new campus community,” said Binfet.
“Homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university,” he said.
The research was published in the journal Anthrozoos.