All About Reading to Dogs Programs

by Sundays

dog on couch with open book

Did you know that some lucky canines participate in reading to dogs programs, where both kids and dogs benefit?

You’ve probably heard about therapy dogs that provide comfort to people who need it. Their job could be warming hearts and laps at a children’s hospital, spreading smiles at a nursing home, or even sharing calming vibes at a therapy session. And some lucky canines participate in reading to dogs programs, where both kids and dogs benefit. 

How do reading to dogs programs work?

The idea of reading to dogs sounds pretty straightforward, so what’s it all about? Yes, it does in fact involve reading to dogs, but there’s more to it than just that. The idea is to make reading a fun, non-stressful activity that kids look forward to, because they get to share the experience with a new furry friend. 

With most programs, the dogs involved are therapy dogs that are trained to interact calmly with people of all ages, including children learning to read. The dogs chosen will have had to show that they can maintain a calm presence while allowing kids to pet them as they read. These dogs also have handlers who are trained to help kids if they’re having trouble with any words. 

When it’s time for a session, you would bring your child to a public place, like a library or a school, to meet up with their reading buddy. Some sites have the profiles of the dogs in the program so you and your child can look at them to see which pup might be the best match. If it doesn’t work out with one dog, you can always request a different dog to try.

What are the benefits of reading to dogs programs?

There are benefits for everyone involved in programs where kids read to dogs. The programs are designed for children who might be struggling with reading, whether they find it hard to pronounce words or they just don’t want to read because they don’t think it’s fun. 

Most kids love animals, so when they get to read to dogs, it turns it into a fun, positive experience. This is especially great for kids who don’t have pets at home but love dogs. And if your kid thinks of reading as a punishment–something they would never do unless they have to–reading to dogs can turn it into a fun new hobby.

Reading to a dog also takes away all the pressures of having to read in front of other students and the teacher if you don’t feel like you can read as well as others. If your child is also shy, the classroom setting can be terrifying when you’re dreading getting called on to read out loud. Instead, children can practice with no judgment and plenty of cuddles and encouragement from their new friend. 

And it’s not all about just benefiting the kids, either. The therapy dogs get plenty of one-on-one attention from a new person and unconditional love. No dog can turn down that job description! It can be pretty relaxing for the dog, too. 

The handlers who volunteer with their pups are also getting benefits. They get to be part of a rewarding program that helps kids learn to read in a stress-free environment, and they can also help the up-and-coming reader if they need it.

What about kids who are afraid of dogs?

Before you sign your child up for a reading to dogs program, make sure they are willing and want to try it. Contact the person running the program to ask if it would be the right type of program to help children get over their fear of dogs. It may be that you’ll need to start slower than this.

How to find a reading to dogs program

The first step is to ask the school if they have any reading to dogs programs. Talk to your child’s teacher to see if your child might benefit from this type of program. 

Another place to look is your local library. Check out the website to see if there is a signup process, or contact the library to ask any questions you might have. 

And of course, you can always do a quick online search for reading to dogs programs near you to see what might turn up.

Many programs are part of Intermountain Therapy Animal’s national program called Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.). The program launched in 1999 in Salt Lake City with a mission to use therapy animals “to help kids improve their reading and communication skills” and to also spark an early love of books and reading. You can learn all about their mission, process, and results on their site.

Try Healthy, Easy Sundays