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College students who were at risk for failing and who spent more time with therapy dogs over the course of a four-week academic stress management program were more likely to experience improvements in their executive functioning skills, such as time management and coping techniques, than students who spent less time interacting with the dogs, found a study published in the American Educational Research Association’s journal, AERA Open.

Researchers from Washington State University and Virginia Commonwealth University examined the emotional and cognitive responses of about 300 students who participated in the university-based stress management program; 121 of them were considered at-risk, according to an association press release. About one-third of the students over all received one hour of stress management training and engaged in activities such as meditation, deep breathing and muscle relaxation each week; one-third interacted with registered therapy dogs for the full one hour each week; and a third group completed 30 minutes of each activity, said the article published about the study.

The academically at-risk students showed significantly higher executive functioning levels “across all domains” when they spent the entire program interacting with therapy dogs, the article said. Students in the different program groups who were not at risk of failing did not show any notable improvements to their executive functioning, whether they interacted with the therapy dogs or not, the study found.