An Investigation into the Efficacy of Therapy Dogs on Reading Performance in 6-7 Year Old Children

Rainer Wohlfarth1,2, Bettina Mutschler2Andrea Beetz3, & Karin Schleider4
1 Department of Public Health & Health Education, University of Education, Freiburg, Germany
2 Freiburg Institute of Animal-Assisted Therapy, Freiburg, Germany
3 Department of Behavioral Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
4 Department of Counseling, Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Education, Freiburg, Germany

There is scientific evidence that the presence of a therapy dog can positively impact on the performance of cognitive tasks (e.g. Gee et al., 2010). The aim of this study was to examine the effects of a therapy dog on reading performance. Twelve children in second grade, aged 6 to 7 years old, were randomly assigned to two groups in a cross-over design. Six boys and six girls read a text in the presence of a dog and, in another session, a similar text in the presence of a human confederate. Several parameters of the reading performance and human-dog interaction were assessed. In our study a therapy dog rather than a friendly female student improved the reading performance of children in three out of four task parameters: correct word recognitions, correct recognitions of punctuation marks, and correct line breaks. There was no significant influence of the dog on reading time. The four reading parameters did not show significant correlations with the total length of eye or body contact with the dog.

Results in this study are consistent with previous research that documented a positive impact on the performance of cognitive tasks in preschoolers due to the presence of a therapy dog (e.g. Gee et al., 2012). Our results add two new aspects. Firstly, data indicate that the presence of a dog can also be beneficial for older children. Secondly, the promotion of performance also applies to reading.

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