Can Dogs Read?

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Introduction

Can dogs read? The ability to read requires a combination of capacities and opportunities. That mutt of yours has all kinds of smarts for learning new things - including specialized skills like reading! 

Believe it or not, with a lot of time and practice, you can actually train your dog to read. But you better hold off before buying a copy of "Call of the Wild" or "Balto". There is a difference between learning to recognize words and being able to comprehend text. There's more to learn about your dog's ability to read.

Signs Your Dog can Read

Dogs have the capacity to learn language and words but they do not have the motor skills to speak words, like humans. They show their feelings and reactions through their body language. It is important to learn how to observe and interpret body language in your pet. Dogs can vary with how they communicate based on the context, their history of experience and their disposition. 

It is wise to make interpretations that are appropriate to keep the dog and people safe and for you to provide the appropriate actions. Your dog can tell you much if you can take the time to read your dog's behavior.

It takes the ability to pay attention to be a reader. Dogs have to pay attention to your signals and the stimuli around them to know how to respond to the demands of the situation. The tail may be still and out, and it may move from one side to another. The ears will be raised and forward. 

You may see the dog moving, as the dog is listening. The eyes will be wide and focused. The forehead and nose will be smooth. The posture of the dog will be forward and on the toes. The mouth will be closed and the fur will be smooth.

Dogs that read with children have to have a disposition that is calm and comforting. The dog will need to be approachable. It begins with being well socialized as a pup. The dog will be relaxed and not threatened by movements or noises in the situation. 

The friendly dog will have their tail down. The ears will be up but not forward. The mouth is open with the tongue hanging out loosely. The dog will have a loose and flat-footed stance. A good comfort dog is in control. The dog is comfortable being petted and allows others to approach and stroke them. Good training prepares the dog to be a great companion for reading with others.

Body Language

Some signs that your dog has read a word include:
  • Alert
  • Listening
  • Raise ears
  • Stiff tail

Other Signs

More signs that a dog has read a word are:
  • Responding to the word
  • Staring at the word
  • Paying close attention

The History of Reading

Reading is making meaning from text. It is multi-faceted because it requires the ability to recognize words, to have an understanding of the meaning of the words, and to have fluency. Learning to read does not come easily to humans or dogs. 

First, there needs to be the capacity to recognize shapes, to have language, and to remember. Then, there must be opportunities to be introduced to reading symbols, to associate those symbols with a meaning or language, and then to have the practice to remember and apply those associations to familiar and new contexts. That's what it takes to learn to read. It does not come naturally to children. They have to be taught and to have opportunities for specialized interventions. 

Dogs have the intelligence of children at about the age of two-and-one-half years. Dogs have been known to have a vocabulary of about 165 words. Panels of judges have ranked dog breeds by intelligence. The top 5 dog breeds for intelligence include the Border Collie, Poodle, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, and Doberman Pinscher.  

These breeds were developed more currently, to work closely with humans - more so than the older breeds, such as hounds. When we consider the reading abilities of the toddler human child, we do not expect them to read. 

The toddler will "try on" reading. The toddler will recognize signs, some letters, their name, and logos that they are exposed to on a regular basis. The toddler may even pretend to read, lining up dolls on the couch and pretending to read to them. The dog will show behaviors that are similar to training on reading. The dog is capable of learning to recognize symbols and isolated words with which they have a lot of positive exposure to.

The Science of Dogs Reading

Scientists have been curious about the ability of the dog to learn shapes and symbols. It makes sense that we would want to understand their learning abilities. We rely on dogs to help us with our work, to provide service to the disabled, and we have yet to develop more ways that we can work with our dogs to solve problems in our shared life experiences.

If we think of reading as the ability to assign meaning to abstract symbols, then science is able to demonstrate reading ability in the dog. In fact, dogs are not the only creatures to discriminate symbols and shapes.  

Scientists have shown that rats, goldfish, and octopi can learn to tell the difference between shapes! Dogs can be trained to recognize and respond to shapes and to words. It takes repetition, reinforcement, and patience.

Fernie is one example of a dog who went to school - literally - and learned to read. Fernie was brought to school to help children learn to read. Research shows that when children read to dogs, it gives them the opportunity to practice, they are calmer and the dogs can be a very comforting listener. There are many programs across the globe in which dogs have children have reading time together. 

Fernie was one such dog. Nik Gardner, a teacher, decided the children might be motivated if the dog could recognize words, too. The teacher worked with the dog to recognize simple words, such as "Sit", using  flash cards and clicker training. Dogs can read what they are trained to identify!

Training Your Dog to Read

Start with a lot of patience! Your dog will need to know how to sit. Make flashcards that are big, with only one word on each card. Begin by teaching the dog to point to his or her name. Have a lot of small treats as you shape your dog's behavior to understand the task. 

With your dog sitting in front of you, show the flash card with the dog's name and place the dog's paw on the card. After a few trials, the dog may start to point to the card without you having to manually lift it. 

Now, present another card with a word on it that is not the dog's name. Reward the dog when the dog points to the correct card for his or her name. Once the dog is correctly pointing to his or her name, switch hands to increase the dog's ability to consistently recognize his or her name. From there, you may begin to add to the dog's reading vocabulary. Be patient and use a lot of praise. Have fun entertaining your friends with your super smart mutt.

How to Help Your Dog Learn to Read:

  • Provide the pup with socialization opportunities.
  • Teach your dog basic obedience commands.
  • Always be patient and positive with your dog.
  • If your dog seems confused, back up and reteach skills.
  • Keep training sessions brief.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog Reading!