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Reading to the dog instead of people boosts kids' skills

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Kids who read to their dogs during summer break from school may have an upper hand when school starts again. In a study, second-graders who spent time reading aloud to their canine friends during summer, gained reading skills and enjoyed the activity more, compared to those who read to people.

Why is a dog better than a human? Past studies have suggested dogs can help children become more literate simply because they don’t get impatient and don’t judge children.

Kids who read to a dog are more comfortable. And the truth is no one knows if the dog is listening. To a second grader, a pup can be perceived as an enraptured audience, in need of a story.

The idea that dogs are great reading companions for children isn’t completely new. Some research has suggested dogs can help boost reading levels for children who are failing.

In a new investigation, researchers at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University performed a pilot study to find out if reading to dogs during the summer could boost reading aptitude for below-average students.

The findings showed no help for below-average readers. Instead, reading to a canine improved reading ability and likeability for normal students.

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For the pilot study, students with different aptitudes were assigned to read either to a dog or a human, during the summer of 2010.

Measurements on the Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM) and Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (ERAS) showed children enrolled in the enrolled in the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) Program, gained slightly more reading ability and developed better attitudes toward reading.

The R.E.A.D.program is a non-profit organization run through the Grafton (Mass.) public library. The program encourages use of therapy animals to help kids read better.

The group that read to humans had a decline in reading score for ability and worse attitudes.

"As with all academic studies exploring a new area, this small study raises more questions than creates answers," said Lisa Freeman, DVM, MS, PhD, one of the study's authors and the research mentor for lead author Dawn Lenihan, a third-year veterinary student. Freeman says the program is popular in the community.

There is more to learn about how dogs can help kids advance their reading skills. Though reading to man’s best friend failed to help children with below average reading skills, it did show man’s best friend helped normal aptitude kids enjoy reading more and also helped them get better at doing it.

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