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Kids Struggling To Learn To Read Can Benefit From A Dog, Study Shows

Ryan Ford 5 Dec 2019

All kids love a good story, but books can be a challenging and daunting experience for many, especially as the pictures accompanying the words start to lessen. Overcoming that challenge will build confidence, but failing to rise to the challenge can compound struggles.

According to a recent study, kids who are having trouble with their reading might very well be helped along by a dog.

On the surface it probably sounds ridiculous to think that dogs can help kids learn to read.

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But a study out of the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus shows that dogs can indeed provide a noticeable boost to kids who are struggling with their reading.

For her study, School of Education doctoral student Camille Rousseau examined 17 kids from first to third grades while reading either with or without a dog.

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The idea behind the study was specifically to look at challenging reading.

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All the kids were selected based on their independent reading abilities and had their reading levels assessed so that the researchers could assign them two pages of reading slightly above their level.

The kids in the study would then have to read the first page aloud to an observer, a dog handler with or without their pet. After they finished that page, they would be asked if they wanted to continue with the second page or be done.

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Whether the kids wanted to keep going or not came down to one big factor: the dog.

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"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," Rousseau said.

Yeah, the dogs didn't even have to do anything. They just had to be present.

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"In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent," Rousseau added.

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Her study isn't the first to show that dogs can be beneficial in a learning environment, she noted. "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.

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There are a few caveats to keep in mind, of course.

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The dogs used in the study were trained therapy dogs, ensuring a calm reading environment for the kids, and the participants were aware of the study and why the dogs were there.

However, Rousseau thinks this is an important development all the same, saying that her research "holds implications for the development of a gold-standard canine-assisted intervention for young struggling readers."

The study was published in the journal Anthrozoös.

h/t: UBC Okanagan

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