By Robert Preidt
MONDAY, Sept. 19, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Man's best friend may also be a college student's best buddy, new research suggests.
The study found that dog therapy can ease homesickness in first-year college students and possibly reduce their risk of dropping out.
"Transitioning from high school to university can prove to be a challenge for many first-year students," John Tyler Binfet, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada, said in a school news release.
"Given that students who experience homesickness are more likely than their non-homesick [peers] to drop out of university, universities have a vested interest in supporting students during their first-year transition," he said.
Binfet and his colleagues recruited 44 homesick first-year students. Half of that group went to eight weekly dog therapy sessions. The sessions lasted 45 minutes. The students interacted with dogs and their handlers, and fellow study participants.
The other 22 homesick students didn't take part in dog therapy. They served as the control group for the study.
After eight weeks, students getting dog therapy said they were much less homesick and had significantly higher satisfaction with life.
For students in the control group, levels of homesickness got worse, the study authors found.
Students in the dog therapy group said their sessions "felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies," the researchers said.
Further research is needed, but these findings suggest that by promoting social connections, universities may help reduce first-year student drop-out rates, Binfet said.
"Homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university," he noted.
The study was published recently in the journal Anthrozoos.