“If you’re petting a dog when you’re reading, your mind goes away from the stress of reading.” - Paula Dalby, national team coordinator for the Reading Education Assistance Dogs
Every dog owner knows how soothing and relaxing it can be to spend some quality time with our canine pals. There’s just something about their presence that’s instantly calming, right? But did you know that dogs play an important role in education, too?
As someone who has dyslexia and struggled through education without getting the support I needed to thrive in that environment, I know all too well how stressful the school and further learning worlds can be.
Reading - a relaxing and enjoyable pastime for many - was a constant source of stress and worry for me. I didn’t understand why I found reading so difficult. And the reactions of my teachers and peers only added to the discomfort I felt.
Needless to say, I did NOT enjoy reading as a child.
Fast forward to the current education system, and I’m overjoyed to see that there’s so much more understanding around the many diversities and complexities of the human brain and how we all learn differently.
I’ve known for years that having a dog close by helped me to deal with some of the additional pressure and stresses as I navigated education with dyslexia. But unfortunately, I couldn’t take my dog to school with me.
That’s all changing now, though!
Reading dogs in schools
Over the past few years, there’s been growing research into how therapy dogs can positively influence the school experience for children, including increasing attendance, better problem-solving, and a general sense of calm in the class environment.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have published a study that shows having a dog present in the classroom provides anti-stress effects on the body, including lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
The result? Calmer children with less anxiety, which allows them to focus on their learning.
How does this help children read?
The act of learning to read - and reading out loud - can be a stressful one for a child due to the fear of judgement and making mistakes. Whereas reading to a dog has the opposite effect - the dog won’t ever judge.
Psychology Today explains that a study was completed in Germany, where 12 second-graders were asked to read from a book, first in the presence of a dog and then in the presence of a young female 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.”
With the mounting research in favour of using therapy dogs in the classroom environment, at McDug we’re excited to see initiatives across the UK actively working to place dogs in schools to support young learners.
Dogs for Good have teamed up with radio DJ, Jo Whiley for a campaign to encourage readers with the help of Fleck, one of their community dogs. In a survey they recently issued to parents, 18% of them agreed that “having a pet dog improves or would improve reading skills for their child, contributing to greater mental wellbeing”.
And Jo felt the benefits of reading with Fleck firsthand, “It was a real experience reading with Fleck. It’s really calming, very soothing and that’s why I think it’s really important to read with your dog. It actually helps!”
The Kennel Club Educational Trust have also set up the Bark and Read Foundation, aiming to help dogs help children develop a passion for reading. They work with schools and libraries around the UK, bringing their specially trained support dogs to help children to read.
These canine ‘reading volunteers’ “help children develop their reading skills, encourage positive behaviour and help build confidence and self-esteem”.
As a cause close to our hearts, here at McDug Nutrition, it’s our hope that one day, every school across the country will have access to a reading support dog to help with learning and education.
Keep your eyes peeled for future updates on the work we’re going to be doing to support these ventures and help get more reading volunteers into schools.