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The impact of a therapy dog program on children’s reading skills and attitudes toward reading

Summary


Qualitative and quantitative data support the use of dog-assisted reading programs

Researchers analyzed standardized reading test scores of 169 students in kindergarten through fourth grade in a U.S. suburban elementary school and conducted interviews with educators and dog owners to examine the effects of a therapy dog program on children’s reading.  Students had therapy dog visits to the classroom once a week for about an hour. Student scores from the 2010–2011 school year were used for the control group, as the dog therapy program had not yet been implemented during this time.

Structured interviews were conducted with the dog owners and educational professionals involved with the reading program at the elementary school under study. The dog owners regularly went to the same classroom with their dogs and remained in the classroom during the reading period.

An analysis of the reading scores showed that the kindergarten students receiving dog reading intervention ended the year with significantly higher reading scores compared to the control scores of the prior year. Significant differences were not found for the other grades.

Interview results indicated that all of the dog owners and most of the educators perceived the dog therapy program to be effective in increasing student confidence and interest in reading. Also noted by the educators was an increase in focus and ability to stay on task. These results were consistent with earlier studies noting improvements in reading and writing skills as well as attitude and enthusiasm for reading with the greatest gains being achieved by students in special education, students with English as a Second Language (ESL), and for children who struggle with reading. An increase in self-esteem was also noted both in this and previous studies. The current study provides both qualitative and quantitative support for the use of dog-assisted reading programs, especially in the lower grades and with struggling readers.

Citation

Kirnan, J., Siminerio, S., Wong, Z., (2016). The impact of a therapy dog program on children’s reading skills and attitudes toward reading. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44, 637-651.

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