Reading in the presence of a dog may be the page-turning motivation some young children need, especially when the book is challenging, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia (UBC).
“Our study 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,” said Camille Rousseau, a doctoral student in UBC Okanagan’s School of Education.
With the recent rise in popularity of therapy dog reading programs in schools, libraries and community organizations, Rousseau says their research could help to develop “gold-standard” canine-assisted intervention strategies for struggling young readers.
“There have been studies that looked at the impact of therapy dogs on enhancing students’ reading abilities, but this was the first study that carefully selected and assigned challenging reading to children,” she says.
For the study, the researchers observed 17 children in grades 1 to 3 as they read with and without a dog. The children were recruited for the study based on their ability to read independently. At the onset, each child was tested to determine their reading range and to ensure they would be assigned appropriate story excerpts. The researchers then chose stories slightly beyond the child’s reading level.
During the study’s sessions, participants read aloud to either an observer, the dog handler and their pet, or without the dog. After finishing their first page, they were offered the option of a second reading task or finishing the session.
“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,” says Rousseau. “In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent.”
Some studies and programs have children choose their own books, and while the reading experience would still be positive, Rousseau said it’s the educational experience of persevering through a moderate challenge that offers a potentially greater sense of achievement.
She hopes the study increases organizations’ understanding of how children’s reading could be enhanced by animals.
Rousseau conducted the study with Dr. Christine Tardif-Williams, a professor at Brock University’s department of child and youth studies.