Has Reading Gone to the Dogs?

Research indicates the presence of dogs lowers people’s blood pressure while interacting with a dog. The September 2002 issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine  research demonstrates “that pets can buffer reactions to acute stress as well as reduce the perception of stress.” One reason this holds true is because animals are not perceived as judgmental.

Common characteristics of struggling readers include not wanting to read outside of school and reading to “get done”.  Children are aware of their limitations and feel judged by classmates. The use of four legged friends and their handlers has been proven to be a purposeful way to overcome these hurdles.  Visits offer children a non-judgmental and supportive environment that helps make reading fun. The relationship associated with reading and dogs becomes memorable.

How does it work? Partner with local shelters that host outreach  programs. Sessions may take place during the school day, weekends at your local library or as an after-school program.

Who can participate? Classroom teachers can request a visit for their class or reading specialists can invite Rover and their handler in for their students.

How long are the visits? Visits are approximately 30-45 minutes.  Frequency of the visits are determined by the availability of handlers and the preference of the teacher.

Why? Canine assisted literacy programs develop fluency and comprehension skills and can also have therapeutic value. Students will begin to willingly reread books at home to prepare for a visit from Rover. The time spent reading new books or rereading familiar books will help build reading skills.  When Rover visits, children are excited and motivated to share their stories with their visitor.

What books can be used?  The implementation of a visit from Rover is twofold.  First, it helps children to participate in a calm, fun reading time.  Second, it is an opportunity to introduce books that will teach proper care and treatment of animals.  There are many wonderful books that are appropriate for younger children that lend themselves to meaningful discussions about taking care of a pet.  The Animal Welfare Institute site offers free publications to teachers.

Where to begin? 

  1.  Contact a local shelter to inquire about therapy dogs/handlers that visit schools.
  2. Send home permission slips for parents.  Let them know about the visits and make certain they are comfortable with their child interacting with a dog.  (*Note:  Participating shelters will most likely require a signed permission slip.  It is always a good idea to include a parent letter explaining the visitors and their dogs have been trained to work with children.)
  3. Announce the visit to your students! Ask students to prepare for the upcoming visit by working on their reading at home.
  4. The day of the visit have your students read a book aloud to Rover and the handler.  Following your students read aloud time, the handler can share a story about dogs or join the group and read a story to your students. It is normally a very relaxed visit so students should be ready to sit in a circle on the floor.  Following the reading allow time for a meaningful conversation about how to take care of a pet and time to interact with the visiting dog.

Looking for some free resources, visit:  Free Publications.  Pablo Puppy’s Search for the Perfect Person and Kamie Cat’s Terrible Night are two favorites.  Also the Gryphon Press has a huge selection of educational books that can be purchased.  Many of which are award winners.  One of my favorites is Buddy Unchained, by Daisy Bix. Gryphon Press

The day of the visit students will feel special and will certainly bring home many wonderful stories about the visit.  Students will begin to gain confidence in their reading ability and even make a few new friends along the way!



About Susan Kosko

Susan has been in the field of teaching for 21 years. At the onset of her teaching career she taught first and second grade, sixth grade reading, as well as seventh and eighth grade gifted support. Susan has been a Reading Support teacher for 16 years and in 2015 became a member of the Association for Professional Humane Educators. A.P.H.E connects educators and professionals around the world who are committed to nurturing compassion and respect for living things. Students are offered opportunities to build critical thinking and writing skills, as well as become aware of how their actions impact our world. Susan enjoys collaborating with teachers around the country to gain valuable insight about best practices in the field of reading.

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