Posted on Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Dogs as teacher’s aid: new role for therapy dogs

therapy dog school

Most people know that therapy dogs can comfort, heal and make you smile, but some of them were born to run – run reading classes, that is.

In Florida these days, you’ll never know who will be your next teacher, unless of course you’re one of the lucky students in the read-to-a-dog program sponsored by Space Coast Therapy Dogs.

According to Florida Today, the program is based on research that has shown children who read out loud and more often become better readers, and a dog, ever patient and eager to please, is the ideal listener. Sharon Crockett, who helped launch the program, described it as a true success.

“We were overwhelmed with the response,” remarked Crockett.

The program is held at the Melbourne Public Library, as well as local elementary schools, and a similar program holds its Tales to Tails reading program at University Park Elementary School in Melbourne. There, librarians give the children stickers with each of the dog’s photographs. After the kids read to one of the dogs, they affix the appropriate sticker to a bookmark: Getting 10 stickers, meaning they’ve read 10 books, earns them a prize.

No library card needed
Further north, in upstate New York, the Finger Lakes Times spotlighted Sparks, the library dog whose specialty is listening. Each week, the 6-year-old Dalmatian and certified therapy dog visits local libraries in the Genesee Valley to give her young “clients” 15 minutes each to read aloud to a very appreciative audience who never corrects their pronunciation.

His owner, Tibbie Dell, disclosed that his primary therapy work is with the children at the libraries; it’s where Sparks makes a difference. She noted that even little children who were too shy to read in front of adults would read to the friendly Dalmatian.

“Even the non-readers love to come and interact with the dog, show pictures and make up stories,” she said.

“[The children] don’t have to worry if they stutter or don’t speak English well … Sparks doesn’t care if you’re making it up.”

More than verbal skills
What the program organizers have noticed is that, besides building reading skills, it also nurtures empathy and understanding, since dogs are such accepting and non-judgmental beings. Children also learn firsthand just how precious life can be.

Tank was a gentle Newfoundland and a good listener with a big heart. When he passed away just before he turned 14, the children were deeply saddened.

“They all miss the big guy. The interaction of the kids and the dogs is so special, ” commented Crockett, who likes to bring along her dog Josie, a chilled-out Australian shepherd/Labrador mix.