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PAWS FOR EFFECT: Combining Dogs, Books & Kids

books cute dogs kids reading therapy dog

You’ve probably read to your children, but how about reading to your pooch? In a growing number of libraries across North America, you can find variations of the Paws to Read initiative taking place in the children’s section. A series of studies conducted at the U.C. Davis in California and Tufts University in Massachusetts found that children with reading difficulties drastically improved their skills when they regularly read aloud to animals – and therapy dogs in particular.

Source: Mentor Public Library

“When kids are reading to dogs, their worries about making mistakes and being judged for making mistakes kind of fades into the background. It starts to make reading… a little bit happier,” says Roseanne Gauthier, a youth services librarian for the Prince Edward Island (PEI) public library service (CBC Canada).

The safe, non-judgemental presence that therapy dogs provide Paws to Read participants helps sustain focus, increases comprehension and fluency, boosts confidence and fosters positive social interactions for struggling readers. The program is primarily aimed at children aged six to 12-years old, but any age of book and dog lovers are also encouraged to sit in on the program.

It’s not only libraries that are benefiting from the Paws to Read initiative. Mark Grant, from TPOC (Therapeutic Paws of Canada), a non-profit organisation that connects pets with people, has explored other applications of Paws to Read.

“Our volunteers and their pets visit with members of the community in schools, hospitals, senior’s residences and universities,” Grant explains (Chronicle Herald). Participants are matched with a suitable, child-certified dog and asked to choose books based on what they think the dog would enjoy, before being given the pup’s undivided attention as they read aloud.

Source: Mentor Public Library

Charley Barker, a 10-year old who signed up to the program a year ago, spends thirty minutes per week reading aloud to Molly and her owner, Sylvia.

“This is the second year I have read to the dogs,” Charley tells the Englewood Herald. “It is fun and it helps me focus on the book and read better.”

Paws to Read is mostly found in the US and Canada, but its promising results are sparking similar agendas across the world. In Australia, you can find the same program structure as a mobile service under the name Reading Labs.

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