Kids Reading to Dogs in Libraries
The purpose of a reading to dogs program is to provide children with a comfortable environment to practice their reading skills. In an interview with ABC, Francine Alexander, the chief academic officer for Scholastic, mentions that it is often easier for children to read aloud to dogs than in front of classmates because there is no embarrassment if mistakes occur. In 2010, the University of California-Davis completed a study on reading to dog programs, which suggested that children who read to dogs improved their own reading skills in comparison to children who did not read to dogs, based on the results of the Oral Text Reading for Comprehension Test. The program involved reading to dogs once a week for ten weeks. Children who read to dogs also reported a greater enjoyment of reading than children who did not read to dogs.
Most dogs in these programs are therapy-certified, meaning they have passed an obedience and temperament test. Additionally, the dogs have previous volunteer experience and receive regular veterinary care.
To begin a program, it is a good idea to contact libraries who have run programs before and also local pet therapy organizations who may know individuals who are interested in volunteering with their pets. In addition to dogs, some programs have also worked with cats and/or rabbits, so it is definitely possible for other types of therapy animals to participate. Because the therapy teams are volunteers, it seems that the costs for these programs are relatively low, which is excellent. Several organizations, including Tails of Joy, Library Dogs, Paws for Healing, Reading with Rover, and All for Animals have additional suggestions for ways to begin and fund reading to dogs programs.
As Mary Margaret Callahan notes in an article about therapy dogs in American Libraries by Timothy Inklebarger it is very important to make sure the therapy teams have insurance, conduct background checks on volunteers, investigate whether a therapy dog program is covered by the library’s insurance policy and whether any additional insurance needs to be purchased. The article also states that it is also important to check local ordinances to ensure that therapy dogs are permitted in libraries. Additionally, it appears to be a good idea to designate a separate area for the reading to dogs program so that individuals with allergies and/or asthma, animal fears, or any other concerns can still browse the collection during the animal reading program.
The results of these programs have been very positive and their popularity is increasing. I believe similar programs could also be explored for ELL (English Language Learning) students and adults working to improve their literacy skills.
 Ron Claiborne, and Wendy Brundige. “Study: Reading to Dogs Helps Children Learn to Read.” ABC News. August 18, 2010. Web. http://abcnews.go.com/WN/study-dogs-children-learn-read/story?id=11428770. Accessed January 7, 2016.
 Pat Bailey. “Reading to Rover: Does it Really Help Children? Veterinary school says ‘yes.’” UC Davis Dateline, April 16, 2010. Web. http://dateline.ucdavis.edu/dl_detail.php?id=12612. Accessed January 7, 2016.
 Timothy Inklebarger. “Dog Therapy 101.” American Libraries, December 22, 2014. Web. http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2014/12/22/dog-therapy-101/. Accessed January 7, 2016.
Tags: early literacy activities, reading dogs, reading to dogs programs, therapy dogs libraries