Reading to therapy dogs improves literacy in students

Reading skills are associated with improved academic performance and positive attitudes about school and learning in children.
By Amy Wallace  |  May 31, 2017 at 10:00 AM
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May 31 (UPI) -- A new study by Tufts University found that second-grade students who read aloud to therapy dogs had better attitudes about reading and improved literacy.

"Previous studies have evaluated the impact of therapy dogs in children's literacy programs outside of the academic setting, including our previous research evaluating children reading to dogs in a library program," Deborah Linder, research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts and associate director of Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction, said in a press release. "However, little has been done to assess the effects of this type of reading program in schools, where children may experience greater stress, challenging social situations and fear of negative feedback."

Researchers at the Tufts institute conducted the pilot study of second-grade public school students who were divided into two groups. The children were required to meet guidelines for average second-grade literacy skills measured by Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills.

The first group of students read to a therapy dog for 30 minutes once a week for six weeks while the control group followed normal classroom curriculum.

Researchers assessed the students' reading skills biweekly and attitudes about reading were assessed before and after the study.

The study showed that the students who read to therapy dogs had significantly improved attitudes toward reading. Reading skill scores and attitudes regarding recreational reading outside school did not change much in either group.

"Our results suggest that reading to dogs in an academic setting has the potential to provide motivation, which will help inform future research into this animal-assisted intervention," Linder said.

The study was published May 23 in Early Childhood Education Journal.

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