Human-Animal Interactions to Improve Reading for Children With Learning Differences

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    Vanderbilt University
Updated on 4 October 2022
Accepts healthy volunteers


The overall purpose of this study is to determine feasibility and preliminary efficacy of pet therapy, or human-animal interactions (HAI), for children (5-12 years of age) with or at risk for LD. Children among 4 reading groups will be randomly assigned to a HAI intervention or control group. The 2 HAI intervention reading groups will receive visits from a registered canine team during children's small group reading sessions twice a week over 12 weeks. The 2 control reading groups will receive care as usual and offered a 1-time visit from the dog at the end of the study (after T3 completed). Two weeks of initial work will focus on preliminary modifications to the protocol. Parents will complete electronic measures of psychological outcomes (child depression, anxiety, QOL) via REDCap at baseline (T1), 2 weeks post-baseline (T2), and 12 weeks post-baseline (T3). The investigators will obtain copies of reading assessments already conducted by the teachers at T1 and T3. Children's salivary cortisol will be obtained from participants in the intervention groups at T1, T2, and T3. Children and their parents will complete concluding interviews at study end (T3) to further inform what they liked and did not like about the intervention. Results of the proposed study will provide critical data for a future full-scale randomized clinical trial (R01) to examine the impact of HAI on psychological, physiological, and reading outcomes in children with or at risk for LD.


According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), approximately 2.3 million children in the United States have learning differences (LD) such as dyslexia or ADHD. Despite improvement in educational interventions such as resource-room services and instructional styles, the availability of services to help these children and their families cope, adapt, and maintain quality of life (QOL) is inadequate. In particular, children with LD are especially at high risk for negative consequences, including both physical and mental health issues compared with typically developing children. Human-animal interactions (HAI) may be a powerful and cost-effective strategy to improve reading fluencies and comprehension of children with LD. Emerging data suggest that HAI help promote classroom behaviors and learning, including effects on cognition, emotional functioning, and motor skills for children with and without LD. Yet, empirical evidence using a rigorous approach to support the effectiveness of HAI with children with or at risk for LD is lacking. Previous studies endorse the effectiveness of HAI in promoting reading abilities and show promise to improve psychosocial outcomes for children, but have focused on typically developing children. No published studies have specifically targeted effects of HAI on children with or at risk for learning differences. More data are needed to substantiate positive effects on reading abilities associated with HAI. The long-term goal of this study is to improve reading abilities and reduce the negative psychological and social sequelae of children with learning differences (LD).

Condition Animal-Human Bonding, Learning Problem, Child Development
Treatment Human-Animal Interactions
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT05235451
SponsorVanderbilt University
Last Modified on4 October 2022


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