Therapy Dogs and Kids: How They Help

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From the book EVERY DOG HAS A GIFT: True Stories of Dogs Who Bring Hope & Healing Into Our Lives by Rachel McPherson, founder and executive director of the Good Dog Foundation.

One of the most popular activities that handler-dog therapy teams participate in is reading programs for children. It is certainly a big hit with The Good Dog Foundation dog teams! Two of the stories in my book Every Dog Has a Gift talk about such a program: “Reading — Going to the Dogs” and “Hooch,” both in section one. Because so many people want to learn more about this program and the role dogs can have in the classroom, we have included a section about it here.

Therapy Dogs and Kids: How They Help

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Children Reading to Dogs

Children have probably been reading to their dogs for decades, but the concept of a formalized program in which therapy dogs and their handlers meet with children is only about a decade old. Credit for the birth of such a program is usually given to Intermountain Therapy Animals of Salt Lake City, Utah, which launched READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) in 1999, the first comprehensive literacy program based on children reading to dogs.

Today there are hundreds of READ programs throughout the country in schools, libraries, and other places where children and dogs can meet and read. The Good Dog Foundation is proud to partner with many schools and libraries and I’m happy to report these reading programs are extremely successful. Similar reading programs also operate under different names, but they all strive to achieve the same general goals; namely:

  • Improving the literary skills of children who have poor reading skills with the help of certified therapy dog teams
  • Enhancing the self-esteem of these children through the process of improving their reading
  • Teaching children how to interact with animals

Research shows that children who have low self-esteem are often more willing to interact with an animal than with a person because the animal is less intimidating and does not pass judgment. Children who participate in these programs not only improve their reading abilities, they also tend to become much more enthusiastic readers who actively seek out books, improve their performance in school, and discover that learning can be fun.

Copyright © 2010 by Rachel McPherson and Lynn Sonberg. Reprinted by arrangement with Tarcher Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, Inc.

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