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 that helps 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. Reading aloud 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. They 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 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.” Provided in the Paws to Read Program is the opportunity for children to read aloud to a therapy dog or a shelter cat regularly.
The result of these regular reading sessions is the marked improvement in the child’s reading skills. Skills, for example, include reading comprehension and fluency—boosted confidence and 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 can improve his or her reading and communication skills.”
Anne also adds, “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 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 every month, 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. According to Walton, “developing the courage to read aloud and in front of peers is critical for classroom success.”
Can a Dog Learn to Read?
Dogs are generally an intelligent animal and can quickly learn new skills or ‘tricks.’ It is possible to train dogs to recognize letters and words and even react to these words. However, dogs can not read as we can. So while dogs are unable to learn to read sentences and paragraphs, they can 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 having your dog listen to young readers. Also, make contact with them if you would like your child to read aloud to a calm dog. Therapy dog organizations are also an excellent starting point. In some cities, organizations such as the SPCA ran 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