Reading to therapy dogs improves literacy attitudes in second-grade students

IMAGE: Second-grade students who read aloud to dogs in an afterschool program demonstrated improved attitudes about reading, according to researchers at Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction at Tufts University.
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Credit: Melody Ko for Tufts University

Second-grade students who read aloud to dogs in an afterschool program demonstrated improved attitudes about reading, according to researchers at Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction at Tufts University. Their research appears online in advance of print in the Early Childhood Education Journal.

Reading skills are often associated with improved academic performance and positive attitudes about school in children. Researchers wanted to learn if animal-assisted intervention in the form of reading aloud to dogs in a classroom setting could contribute to improved skills and attitudes.

“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,” said the study’s corresponding author Deborah Linder, D.V.M., research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and associate director of Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction. “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.”

For this pilot study, participating second-grade public school students were divided into two groups. To be eligible to participate, children had to meet the guidelines for average second grade literacy skills, as measured by Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), a tool used by the school to assess reading skills. For six weeks, one group read to a therapy dog for 30 minutes once a week; a control group followed a standard…

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