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Dog-assisted intervention at a Spanish university: pilot study

Diana Peña Gil (Department of Research and Psychology in Education, Faculty of Education, Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain)
Mercedes García García (Department of Research and Psychology in Education, Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain)
Celia Camilli Trujillo (Department of Research and Psychology in Education, Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 14 August 2019

Issue publication date: 7 April 2020




Dog-assisted interventions (DAIs) are conducted by universities around the world as innovative methods that improve students’ quality of life. The purpose of this paper is to assess the DAI program’s effect on the stress levels, well-being and social skills of first-year students from different degree programs at Complutense University of Madrid (UCM).


The study was conducted with 64 first-year students (M=19.20, SD=1.57). The intervention consisted of three weekly sessions of 1-h duration interacting with a therapy dog. The investigation followed a quasi-experimental pre-test/post-test design with measures of attitudes toward DAI, perceived stress, well-being and social skills.


The results indicated significant improvements in all studied variables.

Research limitations/implications

This study presents some limitations. In the design, the authors lack a control group. Another limitation is related to the sample, which was small. The authors also acknowledge that only one measure of each outcome variable was administered. Likewise, during the interventions, external observations should be added that generate qualitative records focused on student–dog interactions. In addition, physiological measures of stress, such as cortisol levels, should be included in the analysis to further support the obtained results. Nevertheless, as this was a pilot study, future investigations should aim to create a program using a larger sample of both participants as well as and dogs, with a linear/longitudinal design to measure both the mid- and long-term effects.

Practical implications

In addition, this pilot study was implemented to assist in the validation and adjustment of the DAI program for UCM students.

Social implications

By using a DAI program, college students have had the opportunity to reduce their stress and develop their social skills, as well as improve their quality of life as individuals and students. Although the implementation of Compludog was small, it was also promising as a pedagogical practice at UCM.


It was applied for the first time in a Spanish university and provided access to therapy dogs within this context.



No potential conflict of interest is reported by the authors. This work was supported by Complutense University of Madrid under Research Personnel in Training Grant (CT17/17–CT18/17).


Peña Gil, D., García García, M. and Camilli Trujillo, C. (2020), "Dog-assisted intervention at a Spanish university: pilot study", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 344-356.



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