How Dogs Help Kids Learn to Read

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
Experts say reading to dogs helps kids overcome their fear of reading out loud. (Photo: Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock)

I consider myself to be a patient person. I can sit through hours of ballet rehersals and play practices, unending games of Chutes and Ladders (without cheating!), and long, complicated stories about who-had-what-for-lunch at school each day. But I'm finding that one aspect of parenting that can try even my patience is in teaching my youngest how to read.

Don't get me wrong. I really do love reading with my kids. In fact, it's one of my favorite things to do with my kids. But it's just so very hard to listen to my youngest learn how to read, without jumping in to read it for her. She can read the word "the" seven times in one book and then struggle to sound it out the next time she sees it. She can sound out a word like "harbor" and then get stumped at the word "a". (I'm not kidding!) And as much as I will myself to remain silent, I can't help but tense up at the insane contradictions that come with learning how to read.

It turns out, I'm not alone. Researchers have found that it's hard for a parent — or anyone who already knows how to read for that matter — to patiently sit by and listen to another person struggle to read. This is precisely why the latest trend in teaching kids to read has gone to the dogs — literally.

Experts say that reading to dogs — specifically those trained to read with children, like Daisy, in the video below — helps kids get over the fear of being judged when they read. Because try as we might to hide it, young kids feel that tension when they make mistakes. Reading to dogs gives kids a non-judgmental, comforting companion to listen to them without the pressure of perfection.

Research confirms it

Researchers from the University of British Columbia Okanagan School of Education watched 17 children in grades 1 through 3 read. They were given reading passages that were slightly above their normal reading level and were asked to read either to an observer alone or to a therapy dog and its owner. When the children finished reading a page, they were asked if they wanted to continue.

“The findings showed that children spent significantly more time reading and showed more persistence when a dog—regardless of breed or age—was in the room as opposed to when they read without them,” says doctoral student Camille Rousseau, in a statement. “In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent.”

Researchers hope that the findings, which were published in the journal Anthrozoos, could help develop "gold-standard" canine-assisted program for struggling readers.

Similarly, an earlier study by researchers at the University of California, Davis found that kids who read to specially trained therapy dogs improved their reading skills by 12% over the course of a 10-week program. Kids who read by themselves or to adults showed no improvement in the same 10-week program.

Maybe it's time to have the family dog help with reading lessons. And if you don't have a pup, check out the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program or Tail Waggin' Tutors to see if there are any reading assistance dogs available in your area.