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Education Worldwide

Dogs Are Men's Best Listeners


You might have seen this kind of scene somewhere: a child with a book sitting on the floor, a dog laying next to it with the head on the child’s lap. It seems to be listening to the child that reads aloud. Dogs cannot read. Of course. And that is why there are a couple of children out there who read to dogs, right? So that they can get the story. To help dogs. Well, maybe it is the other way round. Dogs helping children, that is. To help struggling children learning to read.

This, at least, is the work of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs Program (R.E.A.D.), an increasingly popular project in the United States that started in the year 1999. R.E.A.D. is a project run by the non-profit organization Intermountain Therapy Animals based in Salt Lake City. The organization’s motto is “Pets helping people“. And in the case of R.E.A.D., the aim is to enhance children’s literacy and communication skills and teaching them to love books and reading.

The dogs are trained therapy animals and form a team with their handlers. Since 1999, more than 3,000 volunteer therapy teams have trained and registered with R.E.A.D. and work in the Unites States, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, Finland, France, Sweden, South Africa, Slovenia, Spain and other countries. Most teams work in settings such as classrooms, libraries or childcare facilities.

The results speak for themselves. A 2012 teacher survey monitoring a R.E.A.D. program implemented in the classroom rated this project unanimously as „very positive“, wanting the teachers to request a R.E.A.D. team the following year again. Students became more confident and fluent in reading aloud and showed improved reading and comprehension skills, with some moving up four or five levels. „The students are now very eager to practice reading independently and they are always asking for new books.“ is one of the surveyed teacher’s statements that seem to summarize the classroom experience quite well. In the survey, handlers and parents shared and agreed with the teachers, noticing improved reading skills and enjoyment of reading with the kids.

How come? According to R.E.A.D., dogs are the best kind of audience. Reading aloud or speaking publicly creates a lot of fear. But dogs are patient, not intimidating, put no pressure on the kids, do not laugh or do not criticize, thus creating a safe, accepting and non-judgemental environment in which a kid can grow. Additionally, a session with a dog give kids simply some more time devoted to reading, whereas the dog acts as a motivator or incentive for this session.

In schools, sessions are about 20-30 minutes on a weekly basis. In libraries, each child gets about 15-20 minutes. The R.E.A.D. program is free of charge to all clients and facilities. There is no special target group with strict criteria for this program.

Sources of funding for Intermountain Therapy Animals are contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations.