Abby patiently listens while Annie Letheman reads aloud to her sister Ruby.
Abby is a Golden Retriever who is, oddly enough, helping the children learn to read.
According to Camille Rousseau, a doctoral student in UBC Okanagan’s School of Education, said her research has found that students spend significantly more time reading and showed more persistence when a dog—regardless of breed or age—is in the room as opposed to when they read without them.
Rousseau’s findings came from a study of the behaviour of 17 children from Grades 1 to 3 who read with and without a dog present.
The study was conducted with Christine Tardif-Williams, a professor at Brock University’s department of child and youth studies.
“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 Rousseau.
The students in the study were chosen on their ability to read independently. Before the study, each child was tested to determine their reading range and to ensure they would be assigned appropriate story excerpts.
According to Rousseau, during the study’s sessions participants would read aloud to either an observer, the dog handler and their pet or without the dog.
Rousseau found the children read for longer and were more determined when a dog was with them.
“In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent,” she said.
With the recent rise in popularity of therapy dog reading programs in schools, libraries and community organizations, Rousseau stated their research could help to develop ‘gold-standard’ canine-assisted intervention strategies for struggling young readers.
She hopes the study increases organizations’ understanding of how children’s reading could be enhanced by furry friends.
Rousseau is continuing her research on how canine-assisted therapy can influence students in other educational contexts through UBC’s therapy dog program—Building Academic Retention through K9’s (BARK).