A reader recently asked a great question about pet-friendly colleges that allow dogs on campus and whether they’re a help or a hindrance.
They said, “I would like to know if having dogs on campus is a help or hindrance to a kids studies, social and private life at school. I had no idea dogs could accompany kids to college.
I thought this was a really interesting topic to discuss, as some campuses across the US have a fairly liberal pet policy.
Even those that don’t allow pet dogs do allow service dogs (by law), so there’s a chance your college student could encounter one at some point in their matriculation.
First, we’ll take a quick look at situations in which dogs are permitted on campus, then we’ll look at the pros and cons.
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When are dogs allowed on college campuses?
If you’re thinking that only service dogs are allowed on college campuses, you’ll want to think again!
While it’s true that every college & university is required by law to allow service dogs, they’re not the only campus canines.
More and more schools are allowing students to bring their family dog with them on their educational journey.
Of course, there are a lot of caveats for non-service dogs. For example, most pet-friendly colleges only have a few residence halls in which pups are allowed.
They typically also have maximum size allowances (small dogs only, for example) and may completely ban certain breeds.
Bottom line, dogs are allowed on campus when the school says they are and entirely at their discretion…unless it’s a service dog.
I know that answer is just vague enough to be annoying, but there isn’t really a blanket statement on the topic.
Now that we’ve barely answered that question, let’s get to what we really want to know: whether dogs on campus are a hindrance or a help.
Benefits of pet-friendly colleges
When I first set out to answer this question, I was sure I’d have a hard time finding solid research either way. Turns out, I was wrong.
There’s actually quite a bit of research on the benefits of having dogs at college! Let’s look at some of the top benefits.
1. Cheap Stress Reduction
Between being away from home for the first time, being totally responsible for yourself, studying to keep grades up, and so on, college is incredibly stressful at times.
As Forbes writer Jill Castellano points out, though, dogs are virtually cost-free stress busters.
No, I’m not saying dog ownership is cheap, but bringing a dog onto a campus to help alleviate stress is definitely cheaper than hiring extra social workers and school psychologists.
With more than 11% of college students suffering from anxiety & depression, it’s easy to see why this is such a great “pro” to allowing dogs on campus.
2. Comforts of home
Here’s a little factoid about me: I went to a college four hours away from my home when I was 18. Four months later, I dropped out and started going to community college at home instead.
I suffer from extreme anxiety. I also wasn’t the most responsible or well-behaved teen (and that’s putting it mildly).
Being away from home was simply too much for me in so many ways.
Had I been able to bring a dog with me (we didn’t have one at the time, but hey, I could have gotten one) I think I would have been far more likely to stick it out.
3. Combats the “freshman 15”
You’ve heard of the freshman 15, right? It’s the theory that all college freshman gain at least 15 pounds that first year.
While the actual number is closer to 10 lbs, WebMD explains that’s not just an urban legend but a very real issue.
Keeping a dog in an on-campus dorm or apartment all but guarantees that students will need to take a walk at least a couple of times a day.
Plus, dog owners are typically more active in general! So taking a dog to school can help keep them that way.
4. Helps shy teens socialize
If there’s one sure-fire thing that can break even the thickest ice, it’s a dog!
Teens and young adults who are too shy to socialize on their own may find it a lot easier to talk to new people with their trusty canine companion in tow.
For someone like me who is painfully shy, I know I personally talk to more people when my dog is around than when she’s not.
I also am far more likely to approach a stranger with a dog than without.
There’s a flip side to this down in the cons, though, as dogs can also be an excuse to not socialize.
5. Keeps teens and young adults accountable
Okay, you know how I said I wasn’t the most well-behaved teenager? Well, I wasn’t kidding.
During that one semester away at college I spent way more time partying than actually going to class, and I don’t mean the kind of party with balloons and clowns (shudder to think!).
Bottom line, I was only accountable to myself and I didn’t view that as a major deal.
For teens like me who lean more towards the “up all night, sleep all day” Lost Boys philosophy, having a dog helps them take responsibility not only for said dog, but for themselves as well.
It’s easier to stay on track when Fido is counting on you to come home and walk him (and remain upright along to feed him).
PS: I promise, I’m so well-behaved now, I wear two shoes (get it, goody two shoes?).
Long story short, the benefits of a dog on campus include helping teens stay responsible, accountable, comfortable and less anxious.
So far, a Fido-friendly college is looking pretty good, right? But wait, because there’s always a downside.
Drawbacks to dogs on campus
While I’m personally all for pet-friendly colleges, I am also all about journalistic balance.
So I dug deep and came up with an equal number of cons to keep things fair. You can decide how much they outweigh the pros.
1. They can be distracting
As someone who can’t pass by a dog without oohing and ahhing for 20 minutes, I can admit that they’re a distraction.
That said, the average 18 to 22-year-old should have enough self-control to pay attention to their studies and not the dog.
Besides, the world is full of distractions that we have to learn to deal with. So, while this is a con, it’s not an insurmountable issue.
2. A problem for those allergic to dogs
Here’s where we find a real con, as allergies cause physical pain to the sufferer and dog allergies aren’t uncommon.
While it’s easy enough to avoid problems out in the open air (while walking the dog) or even in dorm rooms (assign students with dogs to a specific building), school that allow them in classrooms can run into issues.
In the case of a service dog, I feel like fair accommodations need to be made for both the student with the dog and with the allergy.
3. Added costs for the school & the students (or parents)
Pet-friendly colleges that allow dogs will need additional insurance to protect against things like dog bites, scratches, or damage to another student’s property.
Since schools are highly unlikely to just absorb that cost, it stands to reason that they’ll pass it along to the students (or parents paying for tuition).
For the most part, those added fees apply only to students who bring dogs, but it’s still something to consider.
4. Helps shy teens avoid socialization
While dogs typically have a positive impact on helping shy teens socialize, the opposite can also be true.
A teen who is too anxious to meet other people may use his dog as an excuse to avoid social functions; or may feel he doesn’t need to socialize because, hey, he always has Fido!
I can tell you that, as a shy adult, I’ve used my dogs to get out of social functions. “Sorry, I can’t come, my dog can’t be left home alone” is my go-to excuse whenever I don’t want to go somewhere.
5. Potentially unfair to the dog
This last drawback isn’t so much a hindrance for students but for the dog himself.
Is it really fair to take a family dog out of a happy home and drag him off to college where he’ll be locked in a room all day?
Now, if the choice comes down to rehoming your dog or taking him to school, then by all means taking him along is the better choice.
However, before packing up Poochie’s things, decide if his quality of life will really be at least as good as it would be if he stayed home with mom and dad.
Bottom line: are dogs on campus a help or hindrance?
Overall, studies point to dogs on campus (and pet-friendly colleges in general) as more of a help than a hindrance, and I have to agree.
As long as students who bring their dogs to school are able to take full responsibility for them, I feel the pros far outweigh the cons.