Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle getting your kid to read. Not just read, but to truly enjoy reading as a pastime. As something that's not a chore, but a pleasure — a hobby to carry them through life. Well it turns out there's a really amazing way to encourage your kid to read: Go ahead and get a dog. You probably already wanted to and now you have the perfect excuse, thanks to the findings from a wonderful new study from the University of British Columbia.
Doctoral student Camille Rousseau of the Canadian university recently conducted a small scale study of 17 kids in grades 1 through 3 (aged 6 to 9) who had proven they were able to read independently. To get to their findings, researchers looked at the behavior of the young participants as they read. But what's so special about that, you ask? Well, they had the kids read with and without a canine pal present. As Rousseau explained of the study, "[the research] focused on whether a child would be motivated to continue reading longer and persevere through moderately challenging passages when they are accompanied by a dog."
The kids were given books that were deemed just slightly beyond their reading comprehension as a challenge and then read to themselves, out loud, with one of the therapy dogs on hand, and then without a dog. And the results were promising. On the whole, the study found that the children read longer and reported that they enjoyed their books more with a dog present.
So everyone go on and adopt a sweet doggo for Christmas, please.
This isn't the first study to find that the presence of a dog helps to improve literacy in kids. For example, in 2017, Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interactions conducted a study of second-grade students reading to therapy dogs. Researchers observed children reading aloud to therapy dogs as part of an after-school program and found that the general outcome was an improved attitude towards reading in general.
Additionally, a different 2017 study conducted in Austria had similar results. In this study, children who read below grade level were videotaped reading with a school visitation dog and also without. Researchers found that reading with a dog boosted the children's confidence and helped them remain calm, which in turn helped them stay focused on their reading.
This is excellent news for kids who might struggle with anxiety when reading. As Rousseau noted of the UBC study, "The findings showed that children spent significantly more time reading and showed more persistence when a dog — regardless of breed or age — was in the room as opposed to when they read without them. In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent."
So if you've been wondering whether or not to get a dog, perhaps this is the only push you need in that direction. It is now clear that dogs are the very best.
Rousseau, C. (2019) Turning the Page for Spot: The Potential of Therapy Dogs to Support Reading Motivation Among Young Children, Taylor and Francis Online https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08927936.2019.1645511
Schretzmeyer, L. (2017) Minor Immediate Effects of a Dog on Children’s Reading Performance and Physiology, National Library of Health and Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5475382/
Linder, D. (2017) Effects of an Animal-Assisted Intervention on Reading Skills and Attitudes in Second Grade Students, Early Childhood Education Journal https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10643-017-0862-x