Over a five-week period last summer, 18 second-graders at the Grafton Public Library were randomly divided into two groups: for 30 minutes each week, half read aloud to a dog and half read to a person.
The children were allowed to choose whatever books they wanted, and read to the same dog each week, settling in on a large dog bed with their canine companion. Freeman noted that children seemed to prefer to read books about animals, seeming to want to choose stories the dogs could relate to.
"The kids seem to particularly like the dog-themed books; they seem to think the dogs really enjoy hearing about those," [Tufts scientist Lisa] Freeman said. Those who read aloud to a person might be corrected or prompted if they made a mistake, while the children reading to the dogs would be corrected through the dogs, meaning that the handler might say something like, "I don't think she understood that last word."
At the end of the five weeks, the children's abilities were measured. This was a small sample, and the results were not statistically significant, but researchers saw a signal of a difference, with an increase in the words read per minute by the children in the dog group, and a decrease among children who spent the time reading to humans.
The researchers also measured the change in the children's attitudes toward reading using a survey that involved a cartoon cat -- Garfield. The survey showed Garfield in a range of moods, from extremely satisfied to very upset, and was used to judge children's attitudes toward reading. The dog reading group showed a slight favorable increase in their feelings toward reading, and the control group underwent a slight decrease. No children dropped out of the dog program, whereas a third of the children dropped out of the control group.
(image via: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/)