Dog-assisted educational programs, including reading programs, are becoming an area of research focus, based on claims of various advantages for children. However, while available findings typically indicate benefits for the children involved, the low quality of evidence makes it difficult to draw valid inferences. In the current study three dog-assisted programs with clearly defined parameters were developed and evaluated. Sixty-three children, aged 6 to 8 years, were matched on age and gender and pseudo-randomly allocated to one of the three conditions. In one condition the children participated in eight 15–20 minute sessions over a four-week period, in which they worked in pairs to train a dog to complete obstacle course tasks. In a second condition the children spent the same amount of time reading out loud, in pairs, to a stationary dog. In the third condition children participated in normal classroom activities with a dog present in the classroom. This intervention ran for up to four hours per week over the four-week period. Validated measures were used to assess reading abilities pre- and post-intervention. From the results it appeared that children showed significant improvements across time for reading ability for all three conditions, including the condition with minimal dog contact, with no significant group or interaction effects. Exploratory analyses unexpectedly indicated that children who had lower starting abilities displayed the greatest levels of reading improvement. While it cannot be determined that these findings are the result of the presence of the dog alone, they nonetheless may indicate that dog-assisted reading programs are an effective means of benefitting those children who most need help to become fluent readers.
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