Huffpost College

Tufts Uses Dogs To Ease Student Exam Stress

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MEDFORD, Mass. — Tufts University is throwing stressed-out students a bone: therapy dogs to play with during their final exams.

Colleges have long extended library hours and offered extra counseling around test time. Now they're adopting quirky stress-fighting events for students, who face a tough job market in addition to finishing up the semester. From dog visits to free midnight massages to laser tag, students are getting help navigating those last days before turning in final papers and taking finals.

"I hope these puppies make me happy and give me a nice break between studying ... just cut the studying a little bit," 19-year-old Tufts freshman Chloe Wong said Tuesday, petting an Australian shepherd brought in by her resident director.

She called her first semester "challenging." She left her hometown of Manalapan, N.J.; has spent weeks away from family, friends and her shih tzu; and was fearing she'd lose her cool with her first set of final exams.

But on Tuesday, the community health major got to relax and play with a set of dogs that resident director Michael Bliss brought in for her and other Tufts students he serves. They set down their books, laptops and e-readers for a chance to pet, feed and even chase the therapy animals as media camera bulbs flashed.

"Every college student has stress around finals," said Bliss, who came up with the idea of dog visits after participating in a similar program as an undergraduate at New York University. "And taking a break out from that with something as easy and simple and loving as petting dogs is really helpful."

Therapy dogs have long been used to cheer up the sick and elderly. But more colleges are embracing the idea as a stress reliever and a way to engage students, said Brian Van Brunt, president of the American College Counseling Association.

Schools have been developing more flashy methods over the past 10 years or so by sponsoring stress-busting events ranging from late-night yoga and oxygen bars to some school leaders dressing up as the "pizza fairy" and delivering free food.

"College students are very stressed at this point of the year, and some are playing catch-up," said Van Brunt, also director of counseling and testing at Western Kentucky University. "Going to events like these allows students to clear the brain and press the reset button."

Ohio's Oberlin College, which also uses therapy dogs, allows students to dance for five minutes in the library during exam time. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., dropped 10,000 rubber balls Tuesday night from a dorm roof to anxious students below.

"These events help students acknowledge the fact that you have to put these more stressful times in perspective," said Lori Morgan Flood, director of wellness and health promotion at Oberlin. "You'll get through it."

And colleges aren't the only ones jumping in to help students fight the exam stress. The Wacheva Cultural Arts in Syracuse, N.Y., for example, offers discount salsa, samba and African dances classes for any central New York student with a college identification card during midterm and final exam time.

Nerissa Duchin, 21, of Sharon, Mass., said she wished she had seen more events like quirky stress-fighting programs during her years as an undergraduate at Tufts. "I would have loved it," she said.

The pre-med and psychology senior was among dozens or so Tuesday sitting on a residential hall floor while laughing and playing with Sully and Stella, two Australian shepherds.

"People just get so high-strung around finals. ... I think (Tufts) should definitely pass this on," Duchin said. "This is awesome."