Last week my two granddaughters read to some dogs at the library! Yes, you read that right. My 7-year old granddaughter read Little Women (the original version) to a Rottweiler who lay quietly at her master’s feet and my 4-year old granddaughter read Cook-a-Doodle-Doo to a large white dog. Both girls got two turns to read to two different dogs and they loved the experience. As a reward, each of my granddaughters earned a free book, although they thought the best reward was reading to the dogs.
The program took place at the Fair Oaks Library in Fair Oaks, CA and is part of a new trend in using dogs to improve reading skills. It’s long been known that dogs have a calming and soothing effect on people. Just being near a dog can lower heart rate and blood pressure, allowing children to focus on the enjoyment and educational reinforcement of reading.
For this reason, many reading programs use dogs to help children who are reluctant readers. In two groundbreaking studies conducted by a team at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in partnership with the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), researchers were able to confirm positive changes in reading skills among children who read to dogs regularly.
The dogs in this program have each been trained and certified, along with their adult volunteer through Therapy Dogs, Inc. to perform community service visiting schools, libraries and hospitals. Thirty or so children took turns reading one on one with nine dogs. Each reader had approximately ten minutes to read and then was routed to the back of the line to wait her turn with another dog. A volunteer kept the readers revolving. Since each reader read something different, one might think the dogs would find it confusing. But it didn’t appear so.
Reading specialist Katy Culver explains:
Reading aloud is an important component of a good reading program. It develops fluency, essential to comprehension, and provides feedback that reading silently cannot. Reading to animals, who are inherently nonjudgmental, is a good way to promote this type of oral reading practice. Children who would otherwise avoid reading, due to embarrassment, will be encouraged to read more, which will help them to develop essential skills.