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How Can Dogs Help Children Read?

Research casts new light on the benefits of canine companionship

Diane Dreher photo
Source: Diane Dreher photo

Our local library has begun holding sessions where children read aloud to dogs. Following my curiosity about this practice, I discovered that Reading Education Assistance Dogs, R.E.A.D., programs have become quite popular in recent years. In fact, studies have shown that children who participate in R.E.A.D. programs have gained from two to four grade levels in reading proficiency (Jalongo, Astorino, & Bomboy, 2004).

But what is it about dogs that help children learn to read?

Those of us with dogs know how they can provide comfort and companionship, unconditional love and emotional support (Jalongo et al, 2004). Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I would often retreat to my room with my dog to read and do my homework. In addition to providing comfort and support, my dog may have even helped me study. We now have scientific evidence that the presence of a therapy dog can improve cognitive performance (Gee, Gould, Swanson, & Wagner, 2012)

Dogs can help us feel better. Today, many hospitals provide therapy dogs for their young patients. These dogs help children recover by reducing their anxiety, stress, and loneliness, bringing them joy and increased motivation, decreasing their need for medication, and improving their physical function and quality of life (Fontaine, Briggs, & Pope-Smith, 2001; Jalongo et al, 2004).

To study the effect of therapy dogs on reading, researchers in Freiburg, Germany randomly assigned 12 second-graders (six boys and six girls, 6- to 7-years-old) to read from a book in the presence of a dog and again in the presence of a young woman college student. Although the young woman was friendly and encouraging, the children actually performed better in the sessions with the dog, reading more confidently and competently, with significantly better recognition of words, punctuation, and line marks (Wohlfarth, Mutschler, Beetz, & Schleider, 2014).

Research has shown that “the presence of a calm, attentive dog” when children are reading aloud reduces stress and improves concentration much more than a supportive adult, or even a friend (Jalongo et al, 2004, p. 9). Talking to a friendly dog has been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure, creating a safe, nonjudgmental environment that supports children’s performance as they face the challenging process of learning to read (Hall, Gee, & Mills, 2016).

How about you? Does having a dog provide you with comfort and companionship, reducing your stress when you’re dealing with your own challenges?


This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.


Fontaine, D.K., Briggs, L. P., Pope-Smith, B. (2001). Designing humanistic critical care environments.Critical Care Nursing Quarterly, 24 (3), 21-34.

Gee, N. R., Gould, J. K., Swanson, C. C., & Wagner, A. K. (2012). Preschoolers categorize animate objects better in the presence of a dog. Anthrozoös, 25(2), 187-198.

Hall, S. S., Gee, N. R., & Mills, D. S. (2016). Children reading to dogs: A systematic review of the literature. Plos One,

Jalongo, M.R., Astorino, T. & Bomboy, N. (2004) Early Childhood Education Journal 32 (1): 9-16.

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