De-stress with fluffy friends: Wellbeing Dog Walk

Image Credit: Erica Yokoyama

Life in Oxford can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially towards the end of the term with impeding essays due and upcoming exams tying us to the desk. For anyone who needs an hour break from their nerve-racking days, Oxford SU has graced us with what some might describe as a puppy miracle to help us de-stress and cheer up with fluffy friends. I’m talking, of course, about the Wellbeing Dog Walk.

Wellbeing Dog Walks are held every Friday during term time between 12:00 and 13:00. Usually, participants include over twenty Oxford students and six dogs―two corgis, two beagles, a labrador retriever and a bulldog owned by colleges, university staff, and local people in Oxford. Regardless of the weather, participants meet at the Keble Gate and make a circuit around University Park, which is beautifully endowed with nature, for 40 minutes, taking turns leading a dog.

Nicola Reed, an advisor of Oxford SU and organiser of the initiative, describes the weekly Wellbeing Dog Walk as a great solution to the intensity that fills our academic life. She says: “I think it’s really good for students to have a break from study, and to get some exercise and fresh air. It’s a really good way to meet people. And I think dogs are really good for well-being.” 

“I found it really calming, as dogs are very innocent and friendly.”

In fact, a number of studies have shown the positive impacts of spending time with animal companions. For instance, Professor Erika Friedmann at the University of Maryland School of Nursing showed that pets could benefit people with a multitude of health issues, including improved cardiovascular health, lowered cholesterol and decreased blood pressure. Pets can also help promote emotional wellbeing. At the University of Manchester, Dr. Helen Brooke and her team conducted a research experiment involving 54 people who had been diagnosed with mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder and discovered that about 50% of them found pets helpful in managing their illness.

In particular, walking dogs offers us not only an opportunity to exercise, but also a social connection with other dog walkers – in our case, other stressed-out students – which can bring about a sense of camaraderie and lower your anxiety by knowing that you are not alone.

Oli Woodley, a graduate student reading Philosophy – participating in the last Wellbeing Dog Walk session on November 9th for the first time – said: “I am here partly because I miss my dogs back home, and partly because it’s generally relaxing for me to have animals around. I found it really calming, as dogs are very innocent and friendly.” 

If you are interested in joining, come around to Keble gate at Friday noon on November 16th, 23rd, or 30th, or check the SU Facebook event page. If you own a dog you want to share with other dog-lovers, contact Nicola Reed (nicola.reed@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk).