June 3, 2014

Adventist Educator Uses Dogs to Teach Children to Read

, Record, writing from Cooranbong, Australia

A dog might
carry the distinction of being man’s best friend. But a Seventh-day Adventist
educator has also found that the animal can be a child’s best literacy coach.

Barbara Fisher, a lecturer at the church’s Avondale College of Higher Education in Australia, discovered that dogs could help children learn how to read while
conducting a first-of-its-kind study into the effectiveness of canine-assisted

Barbara Fisher hopes her study, which features in a new book, will raise awareness of the educational benefits of canine-assisted literacy programs. Photo courtesy of Brenton Stacey

Fisher investigated a program called
BaRK, or Building Reading Confidence for Kids, organized by Delta Society Australia and Lake Macquarie City Council’s Lake Mac Libraries, that required a child to read
one-on-one to a trained therapy dog. The subject of her study: a disengaged 9-year-old
boy named Zack.

Zack would read four stories every week
to a labradoodle called Flash at the Toronto branch of Lake Macquarie City
Council’s library. After eight weeks, Zack’s reading accuracy improved by 11
months and his reading comprehension by 12 months.

“I thought, 'That’s got to be a
one-off,'” said Fisher, a senior lecturer in the college’s School of Education.

So she re-tested Zack 12 months later.

“He’d retained all his gains,” she

Fisher asked Zack why he found it
easier to read to a dog. His response: “I don’t feel intimidated because it’s
harder to speak to someone who actually talks back when you make a mistake.”

Zack and Flash feature in a new book called “Dogs That Make a
,” which was published last week by Penguin Books Australia.

Fisher contributed a chapter
called “A BaRKing Good Idea” in which she re-tells Zack’s story.

All royalties from the sale of the book
support Delta Society Australia, a not-for-profit organization providing
animal-assisted therapy.

Fisher’s research paper, which she
wrote with honorary senior research fellow Merle Cozens, was published in the most
recent issue of the journal Literacy
Learning: the Middle Years
. It is the first in Australia to study from an
educational perspective the effectiveness of a canine-assisted literacy

Fisher hopes her research will raise
awareness of the programs in general.

“BaRK gives children who struggle with
reading and have become disengaged another alternative to improving their
reading skills,” she said.