A study released in September, 2019 discovered a surprising way to help young children read better: adding in therapy dogs. School-aged students from first to third grades were tested on reading a challenging text with and without therapy dogs.
The children (aged between six and eight years old) were more motivated and less willing to give up on reading the challenging passage when they were in the presence of a therapy dog. The children also reported that they were more interested in the context of the book they were reading and felt more confident when they were in the presence of the therapy dog. They also remained interested in reading for a longer period of time when the dog was with them.
The children were presented with passages to read that were specifically assigned to them based on their individual reading levels to provide a challenge. This was a methodology to ensure equally cognitively demanding tasks from all the students. Though this was a small study, it highlights the human-animal bond and provides new ways that we can promote literacy.
The human-animal bond with dogs dates back to about 15,000 years ago. They have been an important part of social development and livestock maintenance and control, as seen in the herding breeds which made settling down and keeping animals possible for our ancestors. Dogs were a catalyst for the advancements that early humans made in agriculture, from everything from guarding to companionship. Neolithic humans respected their dogs to such an extent that evidence of separate burial grounds have been found for dogs, whereas other livestock remains are typically scattered, suggesting disregard by Neolithic man.
Today, therapy dogs have become so common that you can find programs across the world that bring dogs into nursing homes, retirement homes, hospitals, children’s hospitals, libraries, and schools.
It’s fascinating that we can see measurable differences in our lives because of dogs—and that it’s nearly all positive.
1. Rousseau, Camille Xinmei, and Christine Yvette Tardif-Williams. “Turning the Page for Spot: The Potential of Therapy Dogs to Support Reading Motivation Among Young Children.” Antrhozoos, vol. 32, no. 5, 2019, pp. 665–677., https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2019.1645511.
2. Hood, Marlowe. “Prehistoric Humans Loved Their Dogs to Death.” Archaeology & Fossils, 28 Feb. 2019, https://phys.org/news/2019-02-prehistoric-humans-dogs-death.html.