Cacolice and Ebbs publish research on the effectiveness of therapy dogs

The International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training has published ahead of print Westfield State University research into how dogs decrease stress felt by college students. Paul Cacolice, Ph.D., Westfield State assistant professor of movement science; and librarian Corinne Ebbs, M.Ed., conducted the research.

The article, “Therapy Dog Intervention Decreases Stress and Increases Arousal in College Students,” revealed that there is moderate evidence to support the use of canine therapy to decrease stress in some undergraduate students.

The article marked an expansion of research that Cacolice and Ebbs presented at the January 2020 Eastern Athletic Trainers Association convention. Westfield State awarded an internal grant to allow them to build upon their findings and determine if the role of animal therapy on NCAA Division III student-athletes has considerable importance to aid in their overall collegiate experience.

Westfield State University has hosted for several years a “pet therapy” program on campus, where local dog owners put their pets through a socialization course, then periodically visit campus to interact with community members, especially students. It began as a once-a-semester event held during final exams week and increased to biweekly in recent years (prior to the pandemic). This popular practice played a part in the generation of the clinical research question for this investigation, according to Cacolice.

“We attempted to offer an objective answer to what so far is subjectively successful,” he said.

Their investigation followed a Critically Appraised Topic (CAT) research design, which summarizes high-quality available evidence using an exhaustive, precisely structured search strategy to answer specific, patient-orientated questions faced in daily practice, Cacolice explained.

“Due to the rigorous procedures, the CAT is classified as high-level research design by the International Centre of Evidence-based Medicine,” he said. The published articles on the topic were individually assessed with several grading tools, and then either included or excluded based on the quality of the publication. Data from the remaining articles were then extracted, and a “meta-analysis” was performed to calculate a cumulative effect size of the intervention. This effect size identifies the robustness of the treatment—and in the case of Cacolice’s and Ebbs’ research—the therapy dog sessions’ potency on depression and mood changes among students.