For many children, learning to read is a challenge, and if they are struggling, it becomes even more intimidating. They may not want to try reading aloud because they are afraid an adult will correct them every time they make a mistake. But what happens if they read to a calm, friendly dog who listens and doesn’t embarrass or pressure them? Studies have shown that children’s reading scores can improve substantially after they’ve taken part in a reading dog program like this. Many schools and libraries now offer these types of programs, which were first introduced by the organization READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) and have now spread throughout the country. The Burlington County Library System offers several reading dog programs, including ones at the County Library in Westampton, and the Bordentown, Cinnaminson, and Pinelands branches.
Not just any dog can participate. Reading dogs and their handlers must train together and learn basic obedience. There are several organizations which certify these dogs, including Therapy Dogs International and The Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs. In addition, therapy and reading dogs must pass an evaluation test, known as the Canine Good Citizen test. Dogs are tested for the following:
Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger
Test 2: Sitting politely for petting
Test 3: Appearance and grooming
Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
Test 5: Walking through a crowd
Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place
Test 7: Coming when called
Test 8: Reaction to another dog
Test 9: Reaction to distraction
Test 10: Supervised separation
Dogs and handlers who successfully pass the test earn the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) title and if they go on to do therapy dog work, they can earn therapy dog titles from the AKC as well. The handlers of reading and therapy dogs must also keep their dogs well-groomed and up to date on vaccinations. Reading dog handlers are all volunteers who participate in these programs because they want to share with their community and help others. If you think you and your dog might want to do this, check out Kathy Diamond Davis’ book Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others.
Why not bring your child to a reading dog program at the Burlington County Library and see what it’s all about?