This year, the University of Amsterdam invited students to sign-up for the “puppy room” to help relieve stress before the exam. Students could sign up to cuddle and play with puppies at the Singel Library for free.
About 160 students have signed-up to spend 15 minutes with puppies on Monday and Tuesday, with the time slots having sold out within an hour of the registration opening. Short and strictly-regulated slots are said to be necessary to avoid stressing the puppies.
Despite the effort, some dog trainers criticized the action, comparing it to child labour. An expert told NL Times that while the room would be useful in reducing student stress, it would deprive puppies from sleep and increase their own stress. According to dog trainer Suzanne Voskuil, wheeling out the puppies to batches of students goes way beyond the purpose of such training. “I don’t think they should learn to cuddle at a university with 160 different students within two hours. That is too much and too long”, she said in the Algemeen Dagblad. Even though a supervisor will be present at all times, animal expert Suzy Deurinck, writing in the same paper, is worried that signals may be misinterpreted. Famous signs of enthusiasm, such as wagging their tails, could also be signs of stress, she says.
However, UvA rejects such criticism. The puppies will be accompanied by their owners, and the whole action is conducted together with the animal casting company Catvertise, who claims to have done their research over the past few months to ensure the puppies will be “showered with love” and guarantee their welfare. As for the students, playing with the puppies should lead to lower cortisol levels, and thus less stress and a lower blood pressure. The idea, according to the university library, came from students when asked about their ideal library. However, “puppy rooms” have already been implemented in different universities around the world, especially in the UK, such as the Aberdeen University, the University of Nottingham and the University of Bristol.
For those who are truly concerned about the welfare of the dogs, UvA’s Science Park offers a guaranteed stress-free alternative; students get to cuddle with the robotic dog Shakey. According to Folia, encounters with both the live puppies and Shakey are completely booked out.