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How Dogs Can Help Children Learn to Read

Thursday, August 3, 2017

dog readingKeegan is nine years old and has Asperger’s syndrome. Throughout school, he had trouble focusing and showed little interest in reading. However, that all changed when he met Buddy, a special Sheltie dog.

Keegan’s father said the difference in his son after working with the dog was dramatic.

“When my son started to reading to Buddy,” he said. “I began to notice how excited he was about reading, how he talked about it and about the dog, all the time. How the excitement and interest in reading carried over, even when the dog wasn’t there.”

When children practice reading aloud, it improves their language fluency, reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. But, doing so in front of their classmates can be intimidating, and their nervousness can hurt their development.

But that’s where dogs like Buddy can help.

Organizations around the country have introduced programs that connect children with dogs, and they have impressive results.

How Reading Dog Programs Work

Kathy Klotz, executive director of the R.E.A.D. program, says the impact of dogs on children’s literacy can be dramatic.

“We take therapy dogs to libraries and schools,” said Klotz, “The dog and his handler will sit one-on-one with a child, and the child will read aloud. Away from their peers, they don’t get embarrassed if they make a mistake.”

Klotz says the dogs have a calming effect on the children. Because the dogs are quiet and nonjudgmental, children can practice without getting nervous.

“There are real, psychological benefits,” said Klotz. “The children’s blood pressure goes down, their breathing slows and they feel better with the dog.”

And the learning improvements are significant. Students who spent 13 months in the R.E.A.D. program improved by two reading levels, on average; some students gained as much as four levels.

dog reading

How Your Dog Can Become a Reading Dog

If you’re interested in volunteering with your dog in reading programs, there are certain requirements you have to meet:

  1. Your dog must be a certified therapy dog.
  2. You must complete a program-specific training session.
  3. Your dog must be comfortable with loud noises, children, costumes and sitting for long periods.
  4. You must be able to commit to 90-minute volunteer sessions once a week.

There are R.E.A.D. programs in all 50 states that you can join.

Volunteering With Children

If you want to give back to your community and help children develop a love of reading, volunteering your time can be a rewarding experience. With the assistance of your dog, you can empower children to improve their literacy skills and confidence. 

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