Many kids have bedtime routines that include a bath and story time, maybe even a healthy snack, but what about a dog?
Researchers at UBC Okanagan have found that reading with a dog, regardless of breed or age, motivates children to read more and stay engaged.
One of the study’s authors Camille Rousseau, a doctoral student at UBC Okanagan’s School of Education, makes a case for the potential of therapy dogs to support reading motivation for young children.
Researchers examined the behaviour of 17 children (eight girls and nine boys) from Grades 1 to 3, while reading with and without a dog.
The study says participants were recruited based on their ability to read independently, and they were tested to determine their reading range. The researchers then choose stories slightly beyond the child’s reading level.
During the study’s sessions, participants would read aloud to either an observer, the dog handler and their pet or without the dog. After finishing their first page, they would be offered the option of a second reading task or finishing the session.
Reading tasks took up to 12 minutes per task for a maximum of 24 minutes.
Rousseau said that the findings showed that children spent significantly more time reading and showed more persistence when a dog was in the room as opposed to when they read without them.
For example, 41.2 per cent of the children chose to read the second part of the story when there was no dog compared with 70.6 per cent who chose to continue reading with a dog present. The study notes that the children who chose to continue reading when the therapy dog was not present were more likely to be the stronger readers in the sample group.
“In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent,” said Rousseau, in a UBC news release.
For most of the children in the study, reading with a therapy dog was a new experience.
Rousseau hopes the research could help to develop a gold standard for canine-assisted strategies for young kids struggling with reading.
“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 said.
The study concludes that this type of program might be more relevant among young readers, children with a learning disability in reading, or struggling readers because they often engage with challenging reading tasks to learn to read.
The study was published in September in Anthrozoös, a multidisciplinary journal focusing on the interactions of people and animals.
It was conducted with Christine Tardif-Williams, a professor at Brock University’s department of child and youth studies.