A Kid, a Book, and a Four-Legged Friend

by On May 20, 2013 in General, Reading

I just came across the website for a non-profit literacy program called Reading Education Assistance Dogs? or R.E.A.D. ?, a program of Intermountain Therapy Animals of Salt Lake City, Utah.? Launched in 1999, the R.E.A.D. program is the first comprehensive literacy program “built around the appealing idea of reading to dogs,” providing children with “emotionally safe environments to develop their reading skills.”

R.E.A.D. image 2

They are called “man’s best friend” but today, I
learned that dogs could be a young reader’s best
friend as well.

The program uses registered therapy dogs of all sizes that have been trained and tested for health, safety, skills and temperament. The dogs “volunteer with their owner/handlers as a team, going to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children.”

R.E.A.D. logo

The focus here is on individual children with varied reading challenges. The strategy has them curling up on the floor with a pillow, a book, and a great dog for 15-30 minutes. Yes, the dog handler is mentoring and may speak for the dog at times (e.g. “Rover has never heard that word, can you tell him what it means?”) But Rover is clearly the star, here. He snuggles, turns pages with his paw or nose, and he’s a really great listener.

And here’s the key. Dogs don’t laugh or criticize if you stumble on a word or read too slow. They don’t prompt or correct. Dogs are ultimately less intimidating for children than peers, and allow children to read at their own pace. ?(And kids reportedly respond well to the handlers mentoring when the dogs are by their side.)

Independent research has shown these programs garner great results, from decreased absenteeism to improved reading scores, increased reading motivation, and increased social skills and confidence among young readers.

R.E.A.D. image 1In an article on an affiliate program, Reading Paws, I was struck by the words of one young boy who simply described how a dog helped him with reading:

?“He never barked. He always listened to me. No matter how many mistakes, he never judged me.” ??

All parents of young readers should consider the take-away message in that statement.

Our kindergartener was flagged early on with reading challenges. ?My husband and I work hard to support her reading goals. We use print books and e-books on Bookboard. We work collaboratively with the school reading assistance program.? And we insist bedtime remain a reading pleasure.

Still, even in kindergarten there is stress around reading levels, testing, and placement questions for next year. It is no wonder that reading sometimes puts an anxious look on all of our faces.

Which makes me think: maybe some times we should take our cue from those therapy dogs and just snuggle up to our kids, listening in silent appreciation to their reading efforts.?That, and we should probably get our daughter the dog she’s been begging us for.


Photos and logo were provided courtesy of Intermountain Therapy Animals, home of the R.E.A.D.? Program.


Diana is a sociologist, freelance writer and mom, though rarely in that order. Her writing spans topics from parenting joys and challenges to prevention education. She writes a monthly parenting blog for Yahoo and has published feature articles on adoption, family rituals and the childcare industry for parenting publications. Diana earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. These days find her hanging with her husband and book-loving six year old in the San Francisco Bay Area, while happily blogging and serving as a reading advocate for Bookboard.

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