Some research shows that reading to a dog can positively impact both reading attainment and attitude to reading in school children; however, most research to date has focused on primary school-aged children (4–11 years). In this study we used a series of comparisons to assess the immediate effects of reading to a dog versus a teacher on reading performance, reading motivation, and mood in low-attainment secondary school-aged students. Twenty participants, aged 11–12 years, were given four reading sessions in which they were asked to read to a dog for 5 minutes and to a teacher for 5 minutes, in a counterbalanced order. The final session was recorded and measures of reading performance were coded. Students were significantly more fluent, had improved pacing, and showed better reading behavior (such as confidence and posture) when reading to the dog compared with when reading to the teacher. Participants also reported experiencing more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions when reading to the dog compared with the teacher. However, an Attitude to Reading questionnaire revealed no significant differences in scores immediately following reading to the dog versus the teacher. Children were also asked to explain how they felt about reading to the dog (the positive and negative aspects). Thematic analysis revealed insights into the experience of participants, including emotional benefits, the impact of the therapy dog herself, and changes in attitude toward reading. This study suggests that when reading to a dog, compared with a teacher, benefits can be direct and immediate, and can include better reading performance, increased motivation, and more positive mood. Importantly, this study also indicates that reading to a dog can have a beneficial effect for this demographic in secondary schools.
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