The Benefits of Reading to Dogs

By Laura Ferguson for

If you see a dog in the children’s room of your public library, chances are it’s not someone’s pet—it might well be a therapy dog, and a child might be there reading out loud to it. And with good reason: Dogs, relaxed and nonjudgmental, seem to help even struggling readers find delight in a good book.

For Deborah Linder, V09, SK16, co-director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction, the trend toward “canine-assisted reading” is more than a feel-good idea—it’s a rich field for future research. Studies have been done in the area, “but we need much more rigorous inquiry,” particularly in educational settings, she said. “If schools want to really tap the potential of partnering with dogs as reading aids, then we need scientific evidence about what works.” That would involve research “to be able to optimize programs that help children read.” What’s also important to the success of these programs is ensuring safety for the animals and the people involved by having proper training and health requirements, she added.

Linder is already making headway in that direction with a recently published study about a dog-assisted reading project in a Grafton, Massachusetts, public school. It found that when dogs were brought into an after-school program for second graders, the children reported improved attitudes about reading. The research, built on a similar 2010 pilot study in the Grafton public library, aimed to clarify what components of the canine-assisted reading program affected reading skills and attitudes. The study was published in the Early Childhood Education Journal.

“We hope to build on this exploratory model to determine the ideal frequency, duration of reading, mechanisms behind any improvement, and how to optimize benefits,” Linder said.

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