It’s a sad scene from any number of old movies and TV shows: little boy or girl heads for the bus, faithful dog following. “No, doggie, you can’t come to school with me!” Close up on sad dog face.
But don’t be surprised to see a dog at the school or library these days. Around the country, canine reading assistants have been joining children who have trouble reading for story time. The programs have different names – READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs, out of Salt Lake City, UT); HART (Human-Animal Relational Therapies of Mahopac, NY); and more. But they all have the same goal: helping struggling young readers improve their skills by providing a non-judgmental listener.
Here’s how it works: a trained therapy dog or Canine Good Citizen (usually known as a CGC) is paired up with a young reader. The child reads to the dog. Yes, it’s that simple. The benefit is that a child who is shy or unconfident when it comes to reading aloud in class gets to practice with in a completely no-pressure situation. The dog (or cat) isn’t going to correct their pronunciation, or get restless if the story is taking too long. The child develops confidence and the pet gets to hear a nice story! (Hey, dogs like stories too!) And a child who may not like to read aloud at all might just be enticed to read to a furry friend. I personally think this is a great way to instill a love of reading in a child. If my family hadn’t taught me to love the written word, I certainly wouldn’t be here writing about pets today!
If you want to find a pet-assisted reading program in your area, you can do what I did – hit Google and search for “canine reading assistance” and add your state. If you’ve already got a therapy dog or CGC in your family, you’re halfway there!
And if you’d like to match your young reader up with a reading assistance animal, start by calling your local library – they may already have a program in place or can refer you to someone who does.