Friday, November 14, 2014

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

Sent to American Libraries Magazine, Nov. 14, 2014

I would like to suggest that reading 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 "Dog Therapy" 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

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.
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.


  1. I’m going to have to disagree a bit with Dr. Krashen on this one. I would hate to dismiss any sort of reading that children (or adults) do. I certainly do not agree with Dr. Krashen’s statement that “Reading aloud is rarely reading for meaning.” I’m pretty certain what when teachers read aloud to their children they are reading for meaning. When my wife and I read aloud to each other we are reading for meaning. When actors rehearse a script orally or a poet performs her poem orally they are reading with the intent of communicating meaning to an audience. Why else would someone read to another, human or animal, if not for meaning?

    BTW, although I am not an advocate of teaching students to read fast or to encourage speed when reading, there is a compelling body of evidence that demonstrates a remarkably strong correlation between word recognition automaticity (as measured by reading speed) and reading comprehension. When students are able to automatically recognize the words in texts they can devote their cognitive resources to comprehension, not word recognition. Word recognition automaticity (as well as its metric, reading speed) is developed through lots of reading. In the same way that all of us reading this blog became reasonably fast, automatic, and meaningful readers by reading a lot, we should want our students to develop automaticity (and speed) and meaning through reading a lot, in all its types and forms.

    Timothy Rasinski
    Kent State University

  2. Couldn't automaticity in word recognition to be the result of meaningful reading?

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