Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reading aloud to dogs: What it does and what it doesn't do

Published in American Libraries, March/April 2015, vol 46 #3/4: 5-6

(submitted November, 2014)

Appeared with this title: Indirect (dog) therapy

I would like to suggest that reading aloud to dogs ("Dog Therapy, November/December, 2014) does not help children improve their reading ability directly, but it may have positive indirect benefits.

Research on reading consistently supports one conclusion: Children improve their reading ability by reading books that are comprehensible and interesting, when they understand and are interested in what is on the page.

There is no scientific evidence that children improve by reading aloud to dogs (or to humans). Reading aloud is rarely reading for meaning. Only reading for meaning, understanding the message on the page, promotes literacy development.

I suggest that reading to dogs helps young readers indirectly: As the article states in the first sentence, reading to animals may help children "get comfortable" with reading. The few studies done so far support this: they show that children who read to dogs regularly improve in "fluency," that is, reading speed. This is not the same as improving in the ability to understand texts. Increased comfort with reading, and associating reading with pleasure, however, could lead to more interest in books and more reading for meaning, which in turn means more literacy development.

Stephen Krashen, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California

Sources (not included in published letter).
Lane, H. B., & Zavada, S. D. W. (2013). When reading gets ruff: Canine-assisted reading programs. Reading Teacher 67, 87-95.
Paddock, C. 2010 Dogs helped kids improve reading fluency.  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/186708.php
Smith, Corrione Serra 2008. An Analysis and Evaluation of Sit Stay Read: Is the Program Effective in Improving Student Engagement and Reading Outcomes? Doctoral dissertation, National Louis University.
Smith, M. and Meehan, C. Canine buddies help youth develop reading skills. No date. http://ucanr.edu/delivers/?impact=800&delivers=1


  1. Exactly! The dogs lower the students' affective filter making the experience pleasant. People like to repeat pleasant experiences. I believe I heard you, Dr. K, say once (in about 1997) that get better at reading by reading (whereas we get better at writing by writing AND thinking about it) so if the dogs help some students read more, it's a positive outcome! Some students might also "think aloud" to the dog, thus processing what they're reading. Plus, some students are helped to sit still when they're with a dog so they might read more. ; )

    Thank you, Dr. K, for sharing your deeper understanding!

    1. Oops! Typos! ...that *we* get better at reading...

    2. But so far "There is no scientific evidence that children improve by reading aloud to dogs (or to humans)."

    3. "There is no scientific evidence that children improve by reading aloud to dogs (or to humans). Reading aloud is rarely reading for meaning. Only reading for meaning, understanding the message on the page, promotes literacy development. "
      And there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that it interferes with comprehension and slows down reading rates. I for one have seen (and experienced) this over and over.

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  3. I have to say that after 40 years in Elementary Education and experience as a Reading Specialist I agree and disagree with this article. Elementary children can improve fluency and understanding by reading to a dog. Practicing reading does improve fluency and promotes a willingness to read more either on their own or to a human.There is no risk of embarrassment when reading to a dog. It is als beneficial for the child to have reading material on his appropriate reading level. Children always score higher on vocabulary knowledge than comprehension levels. Developmentally children may have a higher vocabulary level but, actual word meaning and experiences are on a lower level as are their reading skills. So, appropriate reading material is essential to success.On K-1-2 grade levels children are learning to read. At 3rd grade level children start Readig to learn. Teaching children to read involves Sight vocabulary ,phonics, and understanding vocabulary . Then, learning the types of text and how to comprehend and process information. Phonics is essential for decoding and understanding how words are put together. This understanding also helps Spelling. Spelling words to dogs, using the words in sentences, reading stories, processing information , and comprehension by retelling the story to the dog all help those students who struggle with reading and hate Reading because they are not good at it. Dogs can be helpful in the changing of a child’s attitude toward Reading and building confidence on a fluency level. Autistic children also benefit from Reading to a dog which has a calming effect on an over stimulated child. Learning disabled children also seem to focus more on the task at hand when a dog is involved.
    And actually to Paula, reading aloud does promote reading for meaning and relevant discussions about the text. Comprehension, text type identification and deeper level critical thinking all can happen when reading aloud.....I would like to see more on the subject and results of Elementary students reading to dogs.