Anyone who had a dog growing up knows that the bond between child and canine is a powerful one — so powerful, in fact, that plenty of kids feel closer to their pets than to their siblings. And the benefits of having a dog start about as early as they can: Research has shown that pregnant women who own furry pets give birth to healthier babies, meaning that long before family pups are drafted into duty as automatic playmates and go-to snuggle pals, they’re already helping out the youngest members of their human family in unexpected ways.
And then, a few years later, they’re at it again: As Gill Johnson, an assistant professor of education at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., recently argued in the Conversation, one of the best ways to encourage kids to cultivate a love of reading is to encourage them to do it out loud to a dog — a comforting, nonjudgmental (floppy) ear. “Children who are struggling to read, for whatever reason, need to build confidence and rediscover a motivation for reading,” she wrote, and “a dog is a reassuring, uncritical audience who will not mind if mistakes are made”:
Many primary schools are becoming increasingly pressurised environments and children (like adults) generally do not respond well to such pressure. A dog creates an environment that immediately feels more relaxed and welcoming. Reading can be a solitary activity, but can also be a pleasurable, shared social event. Children who are struggling to read benefit from the simple pleasure of reading to a loyal, loving listener.
While the strategy hasn’t been the subject of any studies, Johnson noted, there are already some programs that encourage it, like Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) in the U.S., and the Bark and Read Foundation in the U.K. At the very least, it couldn’t hurt — and it’d make for one heck of an adorable photo op.