Student’s best friend? PAWS wants to know
Study looks at how pets in class can help alleviate stress
Every Thursday, assistant professor Andrea Chute’s first-year nursing students stream into her class without acknowledging her presence — they’re too busy fawning over Gizmo.
Her Australian shepherd mix comes to class once a week as part of a new MacEwan University research study on the effect of a wellness dog in the classroom.
Called Pets Assisting with Student Success (PAWS), the program is trying to figure out whether dogs like Gizmo can help keep students on track.
“He has a calming effect in the classroom,” said Chute, who is also co-founder of PAWS.
Students interact with Gizmo for the first 10 and last five minutes of class, and in between he sits at the front, or at one of the student’s feet.
“Even if the students are having a really bad day and they are really stressed, as soon as they take that 10 minutes with him then they can focus on my class.”
At the end of the semester, focus groups will be held with the students to determine the effects of having a wellness dog in class.
The idea for the study came from other co-founder of PAWS, Melanie Neumeier, who brought an animal she was dog-sitting to her class one day last winter.
She said at the end of the class, a student came forward and admitted to checking Facebook for a good 20 minutes during all her other classes, but said she had been less distracted that day because of the dog.
“She said, ‘I would see what the dog was doing, but then I’m not lost staring at the dog for half an hour and miss everything. I just look at the dog and then I’m back to paying attention to what you are doing,’” Neumeier said.
She said she discussed the idea of having an offscreen distraction available for students and they decided to incorporate it into their program.
Chute co-founded the Pets Assisting with Student Success (PAWS) program with fellow nursing assistant professor Melanie Neumeier.
It’s a drop-in program where students and faculty can drop in at Home Care Lab in the Robbins Health Learning Centre and play with dogs or cats to help reduce stress.
The animals are temperamentand obedience-tested by the Chimo Animal Assisted Wellness and Learning Society (CAAWLS).
The drop-in program and the wellness dog in classrooms are both research studies that are part of the program.
The drop-in takes place twice a week with dogs on Wednesday and cats on Friday.
Participation in the research work at the drop-in centre is voluntary. It involves filling out a survey measuring their perceived stress, so asking them how they felt before going in and then again after leaving.
Chute and Neumeier both agree that university students have a lot of stress to deal with and they are trying to figure out if having animals around makes a difference.
“Hopefully, that helps students in the end because that’s what it’s all about right? Helping the students,” Neumeier said.
are both assistant professors in the bachelor of science and nursing program at MacEwan University. They founded the PAWS program of which Chute’s dog Gizmo is a part of.
Melanie neumeier, left, and Andrea chute