Paws To Read
Paws-to-Read (program names may differ by locale) is a program to improve the literacy skills of children with the assistance of certified canine companions (certified pet therapy dogs) in a fun and relaxed environment.
Many children learning to read become stressed, not because they are incapable of reading, but because they may get nervous or feel self-conscious. They worry about making mistakes, especially in front of their peers, and all this worrying can make it difficult for them to focus. Because of this feeling of dread, they often avoid reading, and the avoidance of reading just makes things worse.
Experts have proven that when children read to a dog, they begin to relax, and feel less self-conscious or nervous. They quickly learn that their canine companion will not judge them or their abilities; and soon, they begin looking forward to reading, and want to do as much of it as they can.
Each child spends about 30 minutes with the dog: a few minutes getting acquainted and comfortable; time reading; then a few minutes at the end for tricks and treats and less formal play.
The child, dog and handler sit together on the floor with big pillows, usually with some physical connection between dog and child. The setting is private so the child is neither interrupted, nor worried about anyone overhearing them read.
While a child is reading, he/she is usually petting and stroking the dog, and before you know it, forgets any difficulties they have reading. In no time at all, the child actually looks forward to reading to the dog, and develops a trusting bond with his canine companion.
The dog handler is not there to teach the child to read. However, the dog can make a great vehicle for communication, with the handler saying such things as “Fido has never heard that word before, can you tell him what that means.” This way valid points about pronunciation and comprehension can be made without making the child feel embarrassed.
In Library Programs, any interested child (generally K–6) is welcome to read to the animals. Because kids can’t really be selected for reading ability, it tends to be a more social and casual way to use the program to help kids have positive experience with books, reading and the library.
In School Programs, children are selected by their teachers and reading specialists as those who would most benefit from this type of assistance, i.e. kids who lack confidence, have difficulty with English (especially if they are not native speakers), kids with short attention spans, and kids whose reading scores are well below average for their age and grade.
In School Programs, the handler and dog usually meet with the same children each week (or at least the same children on a rotational, but consistent, basis), so that a more trusted and secure relationship is formed among child, dog and handler. Some sort of documentation is kept by the handler (title of book read and observations made re: reading skills), and then given to the teacher/reading specialist after each visit.
Children involved in Paws-to-Read programs nationwide have shown:
- Improved reading skills
- A sense of pride in their accomplishments
- Willingness to become involved in other positive activities
- More respect and kindness in their interaction with animals
- Found reading more enjoyable