There’s been a new trend in literacy instruction that seems to be having a very positive effect – reading to dogs! ‘Therapy dogs’ are family pets that volunteer, along with their owners, to help others through various community programs. ‘Therapy dogs’ are very different from ‘service dogs’ – animals specifically trained to work with individuals with disabilities; the former are pets who offer love and companionship to people who could benefit from them.
Therapy dogs can be found in nursing homes, hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities, and now also in school libraries! Researchers from Brock University are studying how reading with a dog can aid the learning process. Reading to these calm, non-judgmental animals is a fantastic way for reluctant readers to gain confidence. Rather than face the nerve-wracking prospect of reading in a shaky voice in front of a whole class of peers, struggling readers have the opportunity to read to a friend who will always listen, will never criticize, and is soft and furry to boot. Therapy Dogs International (www.tdi-dog.org) states the following: “The children learn to associate reading with being with the dog, and begin to view reading in a positive way. Over time, the child’s reading ability and confidence can improve because they are practicing their skills, which will make them enjoy reading even more.”
Tina Hill, founder of Therapy Tails Ontario, said that, “The dogs aren’t going to tell you that it’s wrong, the dogs don’t care if you lisp, the dogs don’t care if you speak in German. The dogs just want to be loved and just want to be with you.” The program also improves children’s empathy and social skills as they bond with their furry reading buddies.
What are the criteria for a beloved family pet becoming a therapy dog? The website Working Dogs: Canada’s Guide to Dogs states that: “Just about any dog of sound temperament can become a Therapy Dog. However, certain capabilities must be demonstrated such as accepting a friendly stranger, staying calm, sitting on command, and reacting well to other dogs and/or distractions.” Ottawa Therapy Dogs works with therapy dogs for an extended period of time before they graduate to working with children:
“Ottawa Therapy Dogs ensures that each R.E.A.D. dog is thoroughly screened and evaluated for temperament and skills, health and cleanliness, good manners and attitude. Our dogs go through rigorous testing and most R.E.A.D. teams have volunteered for least a year, and often longer, visiting patients in hospital environments that include palliative care units . . . before being evaluated specifically for working with children in the R.E.A.D. program. The idea is to make sure that R.E.A.D. dogs remain calm in the face of classroom chaos, school bells and alarms, and general noise and commotion. In addition, our handlers retain control at all times and are always within arm’s reach.”
Do you have a calm, gentle pet that is content to sit quietly for long periods of time? Rabbits and cats can work very well for this purpose too. Why not encourage your child to read to his or her pet as a great way to become more comfortable and confident reading aloud? It may just become one of your child’s favourite pastimes.
For more information on reading instruction, please contact Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space at 416.925.1225 or visit http://www.ruthrumack.com.