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UBC Okanagan study finds dogs boost literacy in young students

Golden retriever Abby listens while Annie Letheman, right, reads to her sister Ruby, with researcher Camille Rousseau, middle, observing. UBC Okanagan

Reading in the presence of a dog can boost focus and literacy in young children, suggests a University of British Columbia Okanagan researcher.

Camille Rousseau, a UBCO doctoral student, recently completed a study involving dogs and children.

The study was conducted with Christine Tardif-Williams, a professor at Brock University’s department of child and youth studies.

The study examined 17 children in Grades 1 to 3, reading with and without the presence of a dog.

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“Our study focused on whether a child would be motivated to continue reading longer and persevere through moderately challenging passages, when they are accompanied by a dog,” said Rousseau.

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Prior to the study, the students’ reading abilities were tested to create a baseline. The researchers then chose stories slightly beyond the children’s reading levels for the study.

During the study sessions, the children were required to read aloud, with and without a dog beside them.

“The findings showed that children spent significantly more time reading and showed more persistence when a dog was in the room, as opposed to when they read without them,” says Rousseau.

“In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent.”

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With the recent rise in therapy dogs in schools, libraries and community organizations, Rousseau says this research could help to develop the ‘gold-standard’ in canine-assisted learning programs.

“There have been studies that looked at the impact of therapy dogs on enhancing students’ reading abilities,” she said, “but this was the first study that carefully selected and assigned challenging reading to children.”

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Rousseau hopes the study will increase organizations’ understandings, on how children’s literacy levels could be enhanced by canines.

She is continuing her research canine-assisted therapy for students through UBC’s therapy dog program, Building Academic Retention through K9’s (BARK).

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