Cuddling up to a dog really does boost our mood, research suggests.
"Man's best friend" is known to be good for our health, with dogs providing companionship and encouraging us to take a daily walk.
Scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have now revealed physical contact with a therapy dog – gentle animals that help people cope with mental health challenges – significantly enhances our wellbeing.
Writing in the journal Anthrozoös, the team further explains how we should touch the animals to reap the most benefits.
One expert has even urged we "make time for a canine cuddle" – as if we needed convincing.
"There have been a number of studies that have found canine-assisted interventions significantly improve participants' wellbeing, but there has been little research into what interactions provide the greatest benefits," said lead author Dr John-Tyler Binfet.
“We know spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial but we didn't know why."
To learn more, the UBC scientists had 284 students self-report their wellbeing, including their overall happiness, any loneliness, their extent of social connections and how integrated they felt into the university campus.
The participants were then split into three groups – those who could spend time with therapy dogs but not touch them, those who were allowed physical contact with the animals and those who communicated with the dogs' handlers but not the animals themselves.
While all three groups self-reported an improvement to their wellbeing at the end of the experiment, only those who were allowed to touch the dogs scored better across all the measurements.
Watch: Therapy dog comforts firefighter
At-home schooling has been common since the coronavirus outbreak emerged, with many university students being forced to study remotely.
With a return to lecture halls expected in September, 2021, Dr Binfet recommends pupils take advantage of any "therapy dog visitation programme" – if you're lucky enough to have one.
"Once there, be sure to make time for a canine cuddle," he said.
"That's a surefire way to reduce stress.
"Our research tells us interacting through touch is key to reducing student stress so programme administrators must be mindful to offer programmes that make this possible".
Watch: Therapy dog visits children's hospital