March 25, 2016

Reading to Dogs May Help Children; Further Study Is Needed

Reading to dogs may improve reading performance in children but more studies are needed, say the authors of a recent systematic review published in PLOS One.
By Laurie Anne Walden, DVM, ELS
Reading to dogs may improve reading performance in children but more studies are needed, say the authors of a recent systematic review published in PLOS One.
 
Programs in which children read to dogs are based on the premise that the presence of dogs reduces children’s anxiety and increases their confidence. This in turn increases children’s motivation to read, which is associated with higher reading performance. However, this field of study is relatively new, and direct evidence of the benefits of children reading to dogs has not been clarified. The purpose of the review was to assess the existing scientific evidence of the educational effects of reading to dogs.
 
“We specifically focused on dependent measures such as reading speed and comprehension” as well as on children’s learning behaviors, wrote the authors. “The aim was to objectively represent the current state of this developing field.” To this end, the authors reviewed all published reports of children under 16 years of age reading to dogs, including articles that did not undergo peer review in addition to original studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
 
Of the 48 reports identified by the authors, none were systematic reviews of randomized controlled studies (the highest level of evidence). Most were expert opinions (the lowest level of evidence), while others were case series and outcomes researches, and one was a cohort study.
 
The reviewed studies indicated that reading to dogs improved children’s learning behaviors. Findings suggested positive effects on:
  • Reading confidence
  • Attention levels and engagement
  • Attendance at reading sessions
  • Attitudes toward reading
  • Reading enjoyment  
These behavioral improvements can lead to better reading performance. However, as the authors noted, the conclusions were not drawn from high-quality evidence. In addition, few of the studies used standard measures of performance and instead reported subjective findings, such as teachers’ opinions.
 
A wider review of published literature in the field of human-animal interaction, not limited to children reading to dogs, indicated that animal-assisted therapy and similar interactions can have a variety of benefits for both adults and children. Because most of these studies were also limited by the quality of evidence, the authors recommend interpreting the conclusions with caution.
 
Even though existing studies have limitations, “there is clear documentation that reading to a dog has the potential to bring significant improvements to children’s reading abilities,” say the authors. “However, there is a clear need for more rigorous investigation in this area.” Further studies should include large-scale randomized controlled trials.
 
Dr. Laurie Anne Walden received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from North Carolina State University in 1994. After an internship at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, she returned to North Carolina, where she has been in companion animal general practice for over 20 years. Dr. Walden is also a board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences and owner of Walden Medical Writing.

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