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Therapy Dogs Help Young Readers

collieSan Diego County, CA libraries have gone to the dogs. All in the name of literacy. Twice a month at the the La Mesa branch, a collie named Sunny, who is a certified therapy dog, visits the library with his handler, Gloria Laube, and listens to children read. An article posted on the American Libraries Magazine website reports that Sunny and Laube are participants in the Read to Your Breed program, which offers assistance and encouragement to kids who struggle with reading. The handler, who has created her own website (www.librarydogs.com) to promote therapy dog reading programs, is a true believer in the efficacy of these canine programs. “The use of trained therapy dogs in reading programs can result in children who feel comfortable reading out loud, read more often, attempt more difficult books, and actually look forward to reading,” states the website.

In order to take part in these programs, dogs must undergo special testing and training to be certified as a therapy dog, and handlers are educated on appropriate dog grooming and behavior. Children often find it easier to read and relate to these therapy dogs, rather than adults, because they are viewed as non-judgmental listeners. The presence of the dog can also have a calming effect on the kids. “Some children pet Sunny each time they turn a page. Petting dogs has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress, so this physical interaction serves a valuable purpose while giving the children extra practice with their reading skills,” explains Laube.

The Lakeside branch of San Diego County Library runs a similar therapy dog program called PAWS to Read. Children’s librarian, Janet Gastil, has observed first hand the happiness and eagerness of struggling young readers interacting with the therapy dogs. “Anytime you can get a kid who doesn’t usually want to read excited to read, that is a success,” she concludes.

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