Dog eared? Why it’s good for kids to read good books to dogs
Children with learning disabilities are being entered into schemes where they are reading to dogs.
The four-legged friends in turn are being enlisted to hear recitations of Dr. Seuss, Hans Christian Andersen, and J.K. Rowling in schools and libraries.
The reason? Studies show conclusively that children who read to an audience perform much better when the audience is a dog as opposed to an adult human or a group of human peers.
The theory is that because the dog is attentive and non-judgmental, the child feels more comfortable working through any difficulties sounding out the words or assembling the sentences conceptually knowing the dog won’t mock or laugh, but only support.
According to Joe Wilkes, who works for Cesar Millan: “For children who are beginning to read, or are a little behind developmentally, or suffer from dyslexia, autism, or learning disabilities, an environment with a friendly companion like a professional therapy dog (or even a well-trained family pet) can create a safe atmosphere where they can work out their difficulties but not feel trivialized by classroom peers or fear disapproval of adult authority figures.
“The use of dogs to provide encouragement to improve literacy can’t solve all problems associated with learning disabilities. Other educational techniques must be used in conjunction with reading to dogs to help overcome whatever challenges the reader faces. But what can be avoided is the embarrassment of making mistakes in front of others.
“Dogs relieve the social pressure for the beginning reader to ‘get it right’. Dogs will enjoy the story even if the words are mispronounced or the delivery is halted. The dog won’t laugh and won’t make wisecracks if the reader makes mistakes. And the dog’s attention and lack of judgment will hopefully help the reader keep moving forward and improving.”
The studies have shown the improvements in the “dog readers” outshine the ones who don’t read to dogs.
One school has been running a pioneering scheme that involves dogs like Yorkshire Terriers, Labradors and Shetland sheepdogs being brought in to the classroom.
The reading sessions last for 45 minutes and the seven and eight year-olds are now much improved, according to teachers at the school.
The scheme was launched in April at St Michael’s Primary School in Bournemouth, Dorset.
Martin Ford, the teacher who helped introduce the scheme, said the dogs had a made a “significant impact.”
“The children always looked forward to their sessions and it certainly helped with motivating them to read both at school and at home.
“There was also a real sense of ownership and pride from the children towards their dogs. Any way to get the children to read is a positive way.”
The scheme was organised by the Caring Canines charity and now more schools want to get the trained dogs into class.
Julie Lankshear, from the charity, said: “Ours are special dogs that are good with children. The scheme works because the dogs are non-judgmental; they won’t laugh at stammers or get impatient.
“They will sit with the child enjoying their time and their reward is to be stroked and played with afterwards.The children who benefit most are those with low self-esteem and often it is not their reading skills that are poor, but their confidence.
“Reading to the dogs gives them confidence and enables them to communicate.”
Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “It’s an amusing idea, but if the child makes a mistake the dog can’t correct it.
“It is simply a distraction from effective teaching. I think that while gimmicks like this maybe enjoyable they are unlikely to raise standards effectively.”