Do dogs help children develop? New study finds having a pooch in the room helps kids spend more time reading and learning

A dog is a reassuring, uncritical audience who will not mind if mistakes are made, say experts, adding that these findings could help schools develop dog-assisted strategies to support struggling young readers


                            Do dogs help children develop? New study finds having a pooch in the room helps kids spend more time reading and learning
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There is so much more to dogs than just keeping their humans company. These furry friends can help children overcome their reading difficulties, according to a new study.

These findings could help schools develop dog-assisted strategies to support struggling young readers, says the research team from The University of British Columbia.

"The findings show that children spent significantly more time reading and displayed more persistence when a dog — regardless of breed or age — was in the room as opposed to when they read without them," says Camille Rousseau, a doctoral student in UBC Okanagan's School of Education.

She adds that these children reported feeling more interested and more competent. Dogs can help children build confidence and rediscover a motivation for reading, writes Gill Johnson, assistant professor, University of Nottingham in The Conversation, who was not involved in the current study. 

"A dog is a reassuring, uncritical audience who will not mind if mistakes are made. Children can read to the dog, uninterrupted; comments will not be made. Errors can be addressed in other contexts at other times," she adds. 

Earlier studies have looked for evidence for improvement in reading, in the presence of dogs. A 2016 systematic review of 48 studies – 'Children Reading to Dogs: A Systematic Review of the Literature by Hall, Gee and Mills' – demonstrated some evidence, but it was not concrete enough, says Johnson. 

In order to understand whether a dog's company boosts a child's motivation to continue reading longer and challenging passages, Rousseau and her colleagues conducted a study examining 17 children from Grades 1 to 3.

Before enrolling children for the study, the authors evaluated their ability to read independently: the children were made to read out difficult stories. 

During the study, participants read out passages to different audiences: either to an observer, the dog handler and their pet or just the handler. The participants were then given the option of a second reading task.

When a dog was there in the room, children spent longer reading and showed more persistence, as opposed to when they read without them, the team found.

With the recent rise in popularity of therapy dog reading programs in schools, libraries and community organizations, researchers believe that their findings could help organizations understand how dogs can enhance a child's reading ability. The study has been published in Anthrozoös.

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