Reading to Dogs (RTD), which involves children reading to a registered dog (accompanied by a handler), is becoming increasingly popular in schools. Benefits to wellbeing and reading engagement are thought to arise due to the unconditional positive regard and non-critical listening bestowed on the child by the dog (Hall et al., 2016; Steel, 2022, 2023). Yet while research data frequently incorporates assessments and teacher/parental accounts, what do children themselves have to say about the practice? This blog post draws upon peer-reviewed research from different international contexts over the past five years, sharing reflections and experiences most commonly reported by children.
Children most frequently report feelings of happiness and increased enjoyment of reading: ‘when I’m sad, it makes me happy’, ‘(the dog) makes me feel like I like reading…’, (Henderson et al., 2020, p. 5); ‘I love the dogs, they were the best’, ‘I like reading to and petting the dog’ (Synyrk et al., 2022, p. 11); ‘I usually don’t like reading but when I’m reading to [the dog] it’s better’ (Steel, 2023, p. 8). Children also repeatedly refer to the perception that RTD is ‘fun’ (Canelo, 2018; Noble & Holt, 2019; Steel, 2022, 2023). These comments suggest that RTD increases children’s desire to engage in reading practice, because of the positive feelings it induces.
Some children also convey positive anticipation about RTD sessions, and even increased enjoyment of school: ‘I felt excited when I knew he was coming’ (Steel, 2022, p. 8); ‘I like school better because I get to read to the dog’ (Henderson et al., 2020, p. 5). This aligns with research that suggests RTD supports an improved learning environment by lifting the mood in the classroom.
‘Research suggests that Reading to Dogs supports an improved learning environment by lifting the mood in the classroom.’
Meanwhile, some children express increased confidence and suggest the perception of improving reading skills and reducing reading anxiety: ‘I am on another level and sticking at it!’ (Noble & Holt, 2019, p. 285); ‘I’m getting way … better at reading’; ‘It sort of helps me with tricky words’; ‘I felt a lot more relaxed when I was reading’ (Steel, 2023, p. 8). The perception of reading more frequently is also reported by some: ‘It made me read more’ (Steel, 2023, p. 9).
When asking those children who report benefits why they find RTD helpful, they explain: ‘[It] helped me to keep trying because I didn’t feel judged’; ‘I like (RTD) because they are great listeners’ (Synyrk et al., 2022, p. 11); ‘[I] feel happy because it’s not like reading to a human’; ‘[the dog] doesn’t make comments like … you’ve said something wrong … he’ll just go with it if you make mistakes’; ‘I liked that [the dog] doesn’t boss you around, he’ll just sit there and … listen to you’ (Steel, 2023, p. 7). These comments suggest that the dog makes a good reading companion which in turn makes reading more pleasurable.
These children’s accounts align with growing research that suggests RTD might have a role to play in nurturing a love of reading. However, while the accounts detailed here are positive, it is important to recognise that some children will be less amenable to RTD. Furthermore, when considering whether to embark on RTD in schools, it is important to foreground welfare issues such as allergies, phobias and risk to children, school staff and the dog him/herself. More research is needed to determine whether RTD has potential as a classroom intervention, alongside other diverse approaches supporting children’s wellbeing and reading engagement.
Canelo, E. (2020). Perceptions of animal assisted reading and its results reported by involved children, parents and teachers of a Portuguese elementary school. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, 8(3), 92–110. https://doi.org/10.1079/hai.2020.0019
Hall, S. S., Gee, N. R., & Mills, D. S. (2016). Children reading to dogs: A systematic review of the literature. PloS ONE, 11(2), e0149759. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149759
Henderson, L., Grové, C., Lee, F., Trainer, L., Schena, H., & Prentice, M. (2020). An evaluation of a dog-assisted reading program to support student wellbeing in primary school. Children and Youth Services Review, 118, 105449. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105449
Noble, O., & Holt, N. (2018). A study into the impact of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs scheme on reading engagement and motivation to read among Early Years Foundation-Stage children. Education 3-13, 46(3), 277–290. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004279.2016.1246587
Steel, J. (2022). Children’s wellbeing and reading engagement: The impact of reading to dogs in a Scottish Primary 1 classroom. Education 3-13, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004279.2022.2100442
Steel, J. (2023). Reading to Dogs in schools: A controlled feasibility study of an online Reading to Dogs intervention. International Journal of Educational Research, 117, 102117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2022.102117
Syrnyk, C., McArthur, A., Zwack, A., & Handelsman, A. (2022). Supporting young readers: A mixed-methods study of their literacy, behaviour, and perceptions when reading aloud to dogs or adults. Early Childhood Education Journal. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-022-01392-5
Supervisors: Dr Sarah McGeown, Dr Deborah Holt, Professor Jo Williams
Funder: University of Edinburgh’s Principal’s Career Development Scholarship
Further information: https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/literacylab/current-projects/reading-to-dogs/