Stu­dent’s best friend? PAWS wants to know

Study looks at how pets in class can help al­le­vi­ate stress

Metro Canada (Edmonton) - - Edmonton - Kash­mala Fida

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.

PAWS 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

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