Literacy is a key factor in occupational success and social integration. However, an increasing number of children lack appropriate reading skills. There is growing evidence that dogs have positive effects on reading performance. We investigated the short-term effects of dogs on reading performance in 36 third-graders and monitored physiological parameters [heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), and salivary cortisol] as well as behavioral variables. Each child took part in two test sessions at the presence of a tutor, in one of which a dog and its handler were present. To assess reading performance two reading tests were used: two subtests of the standardized “Ein Leseverständnistest für Erst- bis Sechstklässler”, where the children have to carry out time-limited reading tasks, to assess sentence and text comprehension, and repeated reading (RR), where the children have to read the same text twice, to assess reading speed and short-term improvement. Although the dog had no effect on reading performance scores, within the first test session the children improved from the first to the second run of RR when a dog was present but not without dog. The behavior of the children indicated a calming effect of the dog in the first test session with less nervous movements and the children being less talkative. We found no impact of the dog on HR and HRV. However, the excitement about the dog in combination with the unknown situation in the first test session was reflected in a higher difference in the mean HR difference between the two test sessions for the children, who in the first test session had a dog present, compared to the children, who had the dog in the second test session. In the second test session, the children were more aroused with a dog present than with no dog present, as indicated by the area under the curve increase (AUCi) of salivary cortisol values. We conclude that the presence of a dog had a minor short-term positive effect on the children’s motivation and reading performance. More substantial effects could probably be achieved with repeated sessions.
Mason N McLary
|Publication Title||Frontiers in Veterinary Science|