Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

UAE schools turn to therapy dogs to pet away exam stress

'Spending time with dogs decrease stress by increasing the levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain'

Grade 10 pupils of the Indian High School in Dubai pet a dog before their English board exam on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National
Grade 10 pupils of the Indian High School in Dubai pet a dog before their English board exam on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National

Schools have brought in therapy dogs and animals to help pupils lower stress levels before exams.

More than 650 grade 10 students at Dubai’s Indian High School (IHS) cuddled pets before they sat down for their English test.

The session with ducks, chicken, a hamster, a guinea pig, a goat, a cockatoo and a dog named Casper helped pupils unwind.

Indian High School in Oud Metha is one of the several in the country that bring in furry friends to help teenagers cope with pressure.

The Animal Agency, an organisation that sends dogs to schools, began its Happiness Dogs scheme in early 2019 to help pupils learn and beat anxiety with animal therapy.

Ladybird Nursery, Kent College, Middlesex University, Willow Nursery, Rainbow Valley Nursery, Jumeirah College, Star Al Twar and Sensation Station are the schools and universities that have benefitted from this programme.

“The sessions focus on the social and emotional benefits that interacting with a dog can bring,” said Karalynn Thomson, managing director of the agency.

At the IHS, pupils spoke of the positive effect that pet therapy had as they queued up to hug and play with Casper, the Labrador.

“Exams can be really stressful but today I’ve realised they don’t have to be that way,” said Melissa Cyriac, 16, a pupil at the school.

“I am very excited to see a dog here at school,” said Nakul Kapoor, 16.

“It’s made everyone start the day in a good mood and we’ll all approach the exam with a more positive attitude.”

“Starting the day with animals can calm us down. It will help us prevent making silly errors,” he said.

The school also uses other methods like breathing and visualisation techniques to lower stress.

The pupils were handed a stress beating kit with a squishy ball, fidget spinner, strips of bubble wrap and a spring.

“We consulted our pupils and educators on different strategies to combat exam related stress and anxiety,” said Punit MK Vasu, CEO of the school.

“I am delighted to see that children were relaxed after engaging in the activities we had arranged for them,” he said.

A 2018 study by University of British Columbia analysed the impact of a therapy dog session on 246 university students.

The researchers found that the sessions reduced stress, increased happiness and energy levels among those who petted dogs.

“Spending time with dogs has been proven to decrease stress and depression by increasing the levels of feel-good chemicals specifically, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine in the brain.

“Interaction with dogs increase relaxation, trust and empathy,” said Ms Thomson.

Dogs also help decrease loneliness, improve communication skills and encourage social interaction, she added.

“The sessions can take different formats, dictated by the school and the needs of their class or an individual child.

“These sessions work well for children with autism and any emotional and behavioural issues.

“Learning with a dog can create opportunities to build the social skills of a child with autism,” she said.

Updated: February 27, 2020 12:37 PM

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