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READING TO ROVER: Does it really help children? Veterinary school says ‘yes’

4.16.2010

By Pat Bailey

Seven-year-old Zachary Callahan from Davis reads a Harry Potter book to Lollipop, a Chihuahua-terrier mix.

Seven-year-old Zachary Callahan from Davis reads a Harry Potter book to Lollipop, a Chihuahua-terrier mix. ((Cheng Saechao/UC Davis))

Kids, dogs and a good book are a great combination, according to researchers in the School of Veterinary Medicine — and they have the data to back it up.

It has been recognized anecdotally that children become better readers when they regularly read aloud to dogs, and many animal organizations and libraries around the country have developed reading programs that pair up kids and dogs.

An example is the All Ears Reading Program, an animal-assisted therapy program developed by St. Louis Cardinals baseball manager Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation of Walnut Creek.

Hoping to collect scientific data related to the observed successes of reading-to-dogs programs, the foundation and the vet school decided to collaborate on two studies.

The first explored changes in reading skills among third graders in a public school and the second study focused on home-schooled students. Researchers found that the kids’ reading fluency improved by 12 percent in the first study and by 30 percent in the second study.

In both studies, the children read regularly to three shelter-rescued dogs, Lollipop, Molly and Digory, provided by the Animal Rescue Foundation.

In the second study, the home-schooled children visited the Davis campus weekly with their parents for 10 weeks. During those visits, each child read aloud to one of the dogs for 15 to 20 minutes.

“I feel relaxed when I am reading to a dog because I am having fun,” one child told researchers.

“The dogs don’t care if you read really, really bad so you just keep going,” said another.

And 75 percent of the parents reported that their children read aloud more frequently and with greater confidence after the study was completed.

The researchers suspect that the patient, nonjudgmental attention that the dogs offer is key to bringing about the changes in the kids’ attitudes toward reading.

“The dogs, in contrast to a human, don’t judge the individual, aren’t grading the individual, and hopefully that allows the children to build some confidence in their reading skills,” said Martin Smith, a veterinary school science educator and lead researcher on the study.


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