Why does Reading with Rover Work?
A study in 2002 by Karen Allen, PhD, a researcher at the State University of New York at Buffalo showed that the presence of dogs lowered people’s blood pressure while they read aloud to a dog. According to the study, published in the September 2002 issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, this research demonstrates “that pets can buffer reactions to acute stress as well as reduce the perception of stress.” One reason Allen believes this is true is because animals are not seen as judgmental.
Past Studies Support Similar Results
Dr. Karen Allen (Department of Oral Diagnostic Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, 355 Squire Hall, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14214; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) cites in her article entitled “Are Pets a Healthy Pleasure? The Influence of Pets on Blood Pressure” written for the Association for Psychological Science, “Just talking to pets, compared with talking to people, is associated with lower cardiovascular responses (Lynch, 1985), and the presence of pets reduces blood pressure of children reading aloud (Friedmann, Katcher, Thomas, Lynch, & Messent, 1983).” The formerly referenced article by Friedman and others entitled “Social Interaction and Blood Pressure: Influence of Animal Companions” written for the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease states, “The presence of the dog resulted in lower blood pressures both while the children (N = 38) were resting and while they were reading.”
Researcher Aaron Katcher notes, in his book Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship, ©1996 West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, that the presence of an animal can create a therapeutic environment if it:
- Draws attention outward
- Turns off anxiety, anger, depression
- Creates safety
- Creates intimacy
- Increases positive expectations of both self and others
Indeed there are numerous articles written which document the direct link between childen reading and listening dogs.
Reading to Dogs Helps Maintain Reading Skills
In a more recent study published by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, second graders maintained their reading skills over the summer if they read aloud to dogs. The study, published August 10, 2011 goes on to say, “Another surprising result was the high rate of attrition among students in the control group. Of the original cohort of nine, a third failed to complete the program. No students left the dog-reading group.” This part is, of course, what we have experienced as well. Kids LOVE reading to the dogs! The study reports, “In the Dog Group, 0 of 9 children dropped out, while 3 of 9 dropped out of the Control group.” Although these numbers are small, they indicate exactly what we have observed at our “reads” for years.
The whitepaper that discusses this Tufts University study is available here: Benefits of Reading Assistance Dogs.
Many other beneficial aspects of children reading to dogs which were noted in the study included:
- Increased motivation to read independently
- Increased self-confidence and self-esteem
- Increased sense of support
- Reduction of stress/anxiety
This study suggests if having a child read aloud to a dog for 30 minutes a week could maintain that child’s reading ability over the summer vacation until he returned to school, we believe it such a minor investment in that child’s literacy — to make it any easier would be difficult!
Our Own Results!
The dogs involved in the Reading with Rover program help turn the reading environment into a non-threatening place where children can read for the fun of it! There is no risk of being embarrassed when he/she mispronounces a word, reads at a slow speed or does not comprehend the exact meaning of sentences.
At Woodmoor Elementary School (just one of our current ‘read’ locations), the Reading with Rover program is showing great results. Kids are more excited about reading because reading to a dog is more fun. The kids range in age from 7 to 12 years old and most join the program reading below grade level or have self esteem issues and have been identified as at-risk youth. They are pre-selected by the wonderful reading staff at Woodmoor Elementary School for participation in the Reading with Rover program.
In addition to increased reading fluency, teachers have also noted:
- Decreased absenteeism
- Kids have improved self-confidence and self-esteem
- Kids have a sense of pride in their accomplishments
- Kids become involved in other school activities
- Kids have improved hygiene
- Kids are gentler and have more respectful interactions with animals
- Kids find reading fun and volunteer to read aloud in class
- Kids check out books from the library and ask the librarian about books
We NEED You!
If you would like to read more about ongoing reading programs in which Reading with Rover D.R.E.A.M. dog teams or Pet Partners® are involved, please contact us directly or visit the Intermountain Therapy Animals website.