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The Impact of a Therapy Dog Program on Children’s Reading Skills and Attitudes toward Reading

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Abstract

An existing school program in which therapy dogs are integrated into the reading curriculum was analyzed to determine the effect on student reading. Previous literature suggests an improvement in both reading skills and attitudes towards reading when students read in the presence of a therapy dog. Using a mixed method model, the researchers analyzed standardized reading test scores of 169 students in kindergarten through fourth grade and conducted interviews with educators and dog owners. A series of t tests conducted by grade indicated a significant difference, but only in kindergarten where the children in the dog reading group achieved higher end-of-year reading scores than a control cohort. A follow-up analysis of covariance controlling for mid-year reading scores confirmed that these differences were not related to preexisting reading levels. Interview results agreed with earlier studies noting improvements in reading and writing skills as well as attitude and enthusiasm for reading across all grade levels but with greatest gains for Special Education, ESL, and children who struggle with reading. Archival data from subsequent years is being collected and will seek to replicate the findings in kindergarten and to examine the cumulative effect of the reading program.

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Acknowledgments

Editorial staff at Early Childhood Education Journal for their suggestions on an earlier version of this article. TAPLab (Testing, Assessment and Psychology) at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) for data entry, interview, insights, analysis. Faculty and professional staff at the elementary school for opening their classrooms for observation and participating in interviews. Special thanks to school principal, Anthony Abeal, for his support and enthusiasm for the project as well as hours spent in obtaining data. Special thanks to office staff for assistance with obtaining data. Special thanks to Kindergarten teacher, Ashley Thompson, for initiating the program at the elementary school, and serving as a tireless liaison between the research team and the school. Dog owners for their participation in the program and time spent in interviewing. Dogs (Ali, Apollo, Bailey, Belle, Bernie, Bob, Charley, Cooper, Jade, Lexi, Lilly, Molly, Penny, Rena, Sassy, Seamus, and Valentine), without whom this program would be impossible.

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The authors declare that this research did not receive funding.

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Correspondence to Jean Kirnan.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The lead author is a therapy dog volunteer. She has volunteered at senior citizen assisted living centers, a developmentally challenged adult summer camp, and the reading program at the school under study.

Ethical Protocols

This is an original piece of research that has not been published elsewhere, nor is it currently submitted elsewhere for publication consideration. Further, all relevant IRB and school approvals were obtained and protocols followed in this study.

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Kirnan, J., Siminerio, S. & Wong, Z. The Impact of a Therapy Dog Program on Children’s Reading Skills and Attitudes toward Reading. Early Childhood Educ J 44, 637–651 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-015-0747-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-015-0747-9

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