What are the Benefits of Reading To Dogs?
It is well known that pets and in particular dogs, help to reduce stress and anxiety in humans. Couple this with the stress reducing benefits of reading and you now have a relaxing activity which helps to strengthen the bond between dog and you or your child.
There have also been many studies that indicate that reading out loud to dogs is beneficial in improving our self confidence in both reading and speaking, which in turn, improves our public speaking skills. For those adults and children who are learning to read, reading out loud to dogs is a safe way of practicing reading skills to someone with a non-judgmental ear.
What are Reading Dogs?
Reading dogs are trained and certified therapy dogs who listen attentively as they are read to by children (and adults) learning to read. The idea is that the learner is ‘teaching’ the dog how to read. Reading dogs work in a range of reading assistance dog programs. These programs are popping up at libraries, schools and nonprofit organizations across the country. Both organizers and participants say the literacy dogs are making a significant difference in the lives of children.
What Is the Paws to Read Program?
One such reading program is Paws to Read. “Paws to Read really works,” says Brittany Nethers, Youth Programs Coordinator at the Orange County, Fla., Library System. “We even have a regular following of children and parents who attend the programs every month.” In the Paws to Read Program children are provided with the opportunity to read aloud to a therapy dog or a shelter cat on a regular basis.
The result of these regular reading sessions is the marked improvement in the child’s reading skills including reading comprehension and fluency. Confidence is also boosted as well as an increase in motivation for reading and learning in the readers. The animals also enjoy the companionship the sessions provide, maybe more so in the dogs than the cats!
How Do Reading To Dog Programs Work?
Dogs play a simple role in these literacy programs, but their importance shouldn’t be discounted. They listen while children read aloud. “For our program, each child signs up for a 10-minute session during which they can read to the dog without fear of being judged or graded on their reading ability,” explains Anne Heidemann, Department Head of the Children’s and Tween’s sections of the Canton, Mich., Public Library. “This program provides a relaxed environment in which the child feels comfortable and is able to improve his or her reading and communication skills.
Since these dogs are trained and tested for safety, health, skills and temperament, they are not intimidating and allow children to read at their own pace.”
Dogs With Listening Skills
The dog participants in these programs are usually either certified Canine Good Citizens (an American Kennel Club program) or are trained therapy dogs. For instance, the Orange County system has partnered with Be an Angel Therapy Dogs since 2005. “Be an Angel Dogs Ministry wanted to expand our therapy dog service to the community,” explains June Feezel, Co-Founder of the organization. “We felt that a reading program with a calm, attentive therapy dog sitting with children who were a little reluctant to read in front of their class would help them gain confidence and realize that reading can be fun.”
The dog participants enjoy children, the gentle petting and the low voice of the reading child, says Feezel. “First, they will sit up and listen, and then they eventually lay down and rest while the petting and low voices continue.”
The program is so popular that 25 teams work in the Paws to Read program, visiting libraries, elementary schools and some programs for hearing and behavior-impaired children. “We have more than 60 venues we visit on a monthly basis, and some of the venues have multiple visits per month, so we are busy almost every day,” says Feezel.
Children who participate receive cool stickers with a photo of “their” dog and a tagline saying they read a book to that dog today. The program offers rewards for frequent participants, including free books, certificates and T-shirts.
Dogs Helping Children Learn to Read
Dog literacy programs work particularly well with students who otherwise struggle, say organizers. Domus, a Connecticut nonprofit that helps at-risk youth, relies on two therapy dogs to help literacy specialists in its Stamford, Conn., charter middle school, says Garland Walton of Domus. “Many kids who might otherwise be resistant to literacy instruction ask to read with the dogs and see it as a treat,” says Walton. Developing the courage to read aloud and in front of peers is critical for classroom success, according to Walton.
Can a Dog Learn to Read?
Dogs are generally an intelligent animal and are able to quickly learn new skills or ‘tricks’. While it is possible to train dogs to recognize letters and words and even to have them react to these words, dogs can not read like we can. So while dogs are unable to learn to read sentences and paragraphs they do have the ability to recognize the shapes of letters and some simple words. If you would like to teach your dog how to ‘read’ check out our article Can Dogs Learn How to Read? for tips and ideas.
How to Participate in a Reading Program
Check with your local library system if you’re interested in either having your dog listen to young readers or have your child read aloud to a calm dog. Therapy dog organizations are also an excellent starting point. In some cities, organizations such as the SPCA run programs.
“Having a special time set aside each month for reading to a therapy dog keeps the kids focused throughout the month on improving their literacy and anticipating their next visit to the library,” says Nethers. “The smile on a child’s face when it is his turn to read makes Paws to Read an invaluable program.”
Article written by Author: Kim Boatman and The Dog Daily Expert