Ottawa Universities: Canine companions -- reduce stress and anxiety

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OTTAWA — The University of Ottawa Counselling and Coaching Service and Health Promotion offices are joining forces to launch an animal therapy pilot program for students. The initiative allows individuals who may be experiencing stress and anxiety to spend time with Tundra, a therapy dog trained specifically to help in these types of situations.

The person behind the idea is Audrey Giles, an associate professor at the School of Human Kinetics, Faculty of Health Sciences. Giles, who has a very strong interest in animal therapy, was by Tundra’s side throughout her certification. A certified therapy dog with Therapeutic Paws of Canada, Tundra is a graduate of 10 courses (obedience, flyball, agility, rally obedience, and more) and intensive French-language training, which in some respects, confers on her a Puppy PhD. She even has her own twitter handle, @TundraDawg.

Studies have shown that, within a few minutes of interaction with a person, a therapy dog can greatly reduce a person’s level of stress and anxiety. “This program will definitely be a great help to many students who are feeling stressed or anxious. It will also help comfort those who have not been able to spend time with their family pets since they left home for university,” says Murray Sang, director of Student Academic Success Service (SASS).

SASS has also launched the Peer Counselling Program, a unique and innovative program aimed at addressing the increased demand by students for personal counselling. The pilot project offers students that are in need a much less formal approach, namely peer counselling led by other students who have overcome their own psychological issues. “We hired and trained five students, all former users of SASS Counselling and Coaching services. I believe that the idea of shared life experience is what makes the program work so well,” Nikki Clarke, professional counsellor at SASS explains.


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