KELOWNA, British Columbia — Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and any number of other handheld media devices, it can be harder than ever to instill healthy reading habits in today’s youth. Luckily, a new study is offering up a furry solution. Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan say that simply sitting down with a book in the presence of a pup can help motivate children to read more.
The research team, led by doctoral student Camille Rousseau, studied the reading patterns of 17 children (8 girls, 9 boys) without a dog present, and then again with a dog nearby. Each child was currently enrolled in either the first, second, or third grade at the time of the study.
“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,” Rousseau comments in a release.
Each participating child was selected based off of their independent reading skills; before the experiment, each student was tested to calculate their reading acumen and to ensure they would be provided with appropriate books for their individual skills. However, researchers didn’t want the books to be too easy for the children, and chose books slightly harder than each child’s reading level.
During each session, the participating children were asked to read aloud both with and without a therapy dog present in the room. Across both scenarios, the children were asked if they wanted to continue reading after finishing the first page of the story they were provided.
“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 says. “In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent.”
Therapy dogs are becoming more and more common in schools, universities, and community organizations, and Rousseau believes her work may help develop “gold standard” dog intervention strategies for children who are struggling to read as well as they should.
“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 adds.
While the research team believe that dogs would likely have the same positive influence on more recreational reading for children, they maintain that the true value of this research lays in its possible application in regards to the more challenging, educational reading that children encounter at school.
The study is published in the scientific journal Anthrozoös.