Virginia AHPERD_Winter2022

Canine Assisted Reading Program Logistics There was significant variation in program duration in the studies reviewed, however, all programs lasted at least six weeks (Bassette & Taber-Doughty, 2016; Lane & Zavada, 2013), rang ing to more than a year (Perkins, 2017). The most common length of programs were ten weeks (Hall et al., 2016; Lane & Zavada, 2013; Le Roux et al., 2014; Perkins, 2017; Uccheddu et al., 2019) and an entire academic school year (Beck, 2015; Kirnan et al., 2015; Lane & Zavada, 2013; Lewis, 2017; Shaw, 2013). Other program durations included 12 weeks (Schuck et al., 2013); 16 weeks (Shaw, 2013); 20 weeks (Fitch, 2017); and 6 months (Rincón et al., 2019). Program duration is an important factor when planning a CARP because it may play a role in functional gains made by the participant. Functional changes were noted at different thresh olds in certain studies. For example, Le Roux et al. (2014) re ported statistically significant higher reading comprehension was not fully seen until week eight of the ten-week program. Schuck et al. (2015) noted benefits for children diagnosed with ADHD emerging by week four. Based on the evidence, RTs/educators should consider planning program duration to be a minimum of ten weeks ranging up to a full academic year. Duration of Sessions Sessions were defined by minutes/hours spent with the therapy dog each week. Again, there was significant variation in the stud ies reviewed ranging anywhere from 10 minutes (Lewis, 2017) to 4.5 hours (Schuck et al., 2015) per week. The most common ses sion duration was 15-20 minutes (Beck, 2015; Fitch, 2017; Hall et al, 2016; Kirnan et al., 2015; Lane & Zavada, 2013; Le Roux et al., 2014; Perkins, 2017; Shaw, 2013). Other session durations included 30 minutes (15-Uccheddu et al., 2019), 45 minutes (Rincón et al., 2021), and 60 minutes (Kirnan et al., 2015). While the evidence suggests session duration should be a minimum of one 20-minute session per week, it is also important to consider session content as well as other developmental factors such as reading level and attention span when making that determination. Session Content Reading aloud to the dog is essential in every session; how ever, the presence or absence of assessment and child-canine ac climation is a factor in determining session length. For example, Rincon et al., (2021) engaged participants in canine acclima tion every session necessitating that it be longer. Sessions may be elongated based upon the social, emotional, physical and/or academic skills the participant is expected to execute during the session. Lane & Zavada (2013) discuss a study in which partici pants read a full book by the completion of the program which may be more time consuming than short reading passages. Func tional skills expectations and requirements should be based upon student academic/treatment goals, especially those listed in Indi vidual Education Plans (IEP) or 504 plans and conveyed on the outset of the program both to the participants and their guardians.

associated with CARPs. Children with intellectual and physical disabilities demonstrated improved postural control, eye-motor coordination and sensation following a 12-session CARP (Rincón et al., 2021). In a lab-based study, when completing motor tasks with a dog present compared to without, children were faster and more accurate (Hall et al., 2016). Lane and Zavada (2013) posit that natural pet-human interaction such as petting and play, may result in experiencing a physical calming as evidenced by low ered blood pressure. Academic Benefits Although time spent with a canine reading companion can cer tainly be fun as well as emotionally, socially and physically ben eficial, the primary purpose is to improve academic reading per formance. Le Roux et al. (2014) conducted a randomized control trial, comparing CARPs to several control groups such as a “ted dy bear group” wherein the children read to a teddy bear. They found that children, especially the boys, in “the dog group” had significantly better reading comprehension than the other groups (Le Roux et al., 2014). Uccheddu et al., (2019) conducted a study wherein parents of children with ASD were surveyed and found that the children in the CARP when compared with the control group had perfect attendance, were significantly more motivated and willing to read, more likely to read at home autonomously, and more likely to complete homework. In a case study of four chil dren with emotional-behavioral disabilities who read to a “class room pet” demonstrated improved reading performance when compared to their pre-study baseline (Bassette & Taber-Doughty, 2016). A study by Lewis’ (2017) who surveyed teachers following the implementation of a CARP for children who had been identi fied as having low reading ability, motivation and/or self-esteem observed improved reading confidence and stamina, improvement in teacher assessments for reading, oracy, and writing. Similarly, Kirnan et al. (2015) noted children in a special education and/or English as a Second Language program enrolled in a CARP expe rienced improved reading enthusiasm, increased focus and on-task work. Teachers in this study were also convinced of the effective ness of CARPs in improving academic performance as all of them recommended the program be continued and expanded to other schools (Kirnan et al., 2015). Bassette & Taber-Doughty (2016), Lane & Zavada (2013), Shaw (2013), and Uccheddu et al. (2019) all found that motivation of the student to read increased through out the progression of the program. Evidence-Based CARP Implementation Guidelines Indeed, the social, emotional and physical health and academ ic performance benefits warrant consideration for implementing a CARP, especially for children with disabilities or those that ex perience reading deficits/challenges. To assist interested educa tors/RT in the prospect of implementing a CARP, the following section offers considerations for program planning and include (a) program logistics; (b) session duration and content; (c) func tional skill assessment tools; (d) environmental recommenda tions; and (e) resources and safety.

WINTER 2022 • Virginia AHPERD • 3

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