Kids Get Over Anxiety while Reading to Rover

Veterinary researchers say dogs can give children confidence and help them become better readers.

With schools returning to session, some pet parents might be surprised to learn tutors can come on four legs as well as two.

Researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Boston say dogs can be the nonjudgmental, supportive presence some kids need as they learn to read. In a study, Dr. Lisa Freeman and fellow researchers found that being able to interact with a dog actually increased retention in a summer reading program. Though the study was short-lived and included only 18 elementary school students, the results also suggested the dogs had positively influenced reading scores.  

“Dogs are such good listeners,” said Dr. Freeman, a Tufts University veterinarian who spoke to ABC News about the study. “They really make reading a fun and pleasant experience for a child in what might otherwise be a challenging environment.”

More libraries and schools are turning to dogs to help children get over their anxiety about reading. As Arizona’s Pima County Public Library states on its website, “Animals are ideal reading companions because they create a relaxed, comfortable and safe environment.”

In one reading program at New York Public Library, children read to dogs who are trained to provide support with a gentle nudge or a paw placed on the page when children struggle.

At West Palm Beach Library in Florida, Youth Services Manager Jennifer Roddick said the library’s Dog Tales  program, in which youngsters read to dogs, has become quite a hit.

“It’s very unlike a classroom where a child can be reading aloud and another kid snickers when he mispronounces or is reading slow. They’re at a completely different level reading to the dog,” Ms. Roddick told the Palm Beach Post.

Even though they may not understand the stories they’re hearing, the dogs involved in read-aloud programs apparently benefit from the sessions, too.

“Hairy loves it,” said pet parent Jennifer Brown, a high school English teacher whose Pomeranian participates in the West Palm Beach Library program. “When we’re driving over there, Hairy is calm. But once he knows what’s going to happen, he goes nuts just barking and his tail wagging. I just know he’s looking forward to it.”

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