Reading to dogs improves student attitudes toward academics

Reading aloud with your children is important, but having them read to the family dog might just make them happier to finish their homework. 

Researchers at Tufts University conducted a study to see whether an after-school canine-assisted reading program in a public elementary school would be feasible to helping improve the students’ reading. The study was published in the June 2017 issue of the Early Childhood Education Journal

In a press release from Tufts, corresponding author Deborah Linder, DVM explained that while previous studies have focused on children’s literacy programs outside an academic setting, they wanted to assess reading programs in schools “where children may experience greater stress, challenging social situations and fear of negative feedback.”  

For the study, researchers chose 28 second graders who met the guidelines for average second grade literacy skills. They were then divided into two groups. One group read to a registered therapy dog once a week in 30 minute sessions for six weeks and the control group followed the standard classroom curriculum. The children’s reading skills were assessed biweekly, as were their attitudes toward reading.  

To assess reading attitudes, the students were asked 10 questions about recreational reading and 10 questions about academic reading. They then responded by selecting pictorial responses that ranged from “very upset” to “very happy.” 

Reading skills did not improve with either group, although the researchers noted this could be due to the fact that the students were at average reading levels. Conducting future research with children below grade level may show a more significant change. Recreational attitudes toward reading did not change significantly for either group. 

However, attitudes toward academic reading improved significantly in the group of children who read to dogs. This supports the feasibility of a canine-assisted reading program as a source of motivation for children to complete their academic work. 

The research team is planning further research to see whether dogs can improve the reading skills and lower anxiety for children aged 7 to 11 and are enrolled in summer reading programs and require remedial instruction. 

Photo credit: © iStock/beronb

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