There’s something about their curious eyes. Their rhythmic breaths. Their warm, comforting bodies. Somehow, it seems impossible to feel anxious while reading to a dog.
This is good news for kids who might need some extra help getting the words off the page. A study out of the University of California at Davis found that children who read aloud to a dog improved their reading skills by 12 per cent when compared to children who only read with an adult.
Therapy pets, as educational therapist Rebecca Barker Bridges told KQED, allow kids to focus on the animal instead of their own insecurities. They’re an uncritical, reassuring audience. (A dog will not say, “Actually, it’s pronounced ARC-tic.”)
The furry friends benefit from the activity, too — reading to shy dogs can help put them at ease.
There are a number of programs around the country that provide or train therapy dogs to help children learn how to read, while also building empathy and lowering anxiety. They include:
- Story Dogs: A literacy program with hundreds of teams around Australia.
- Delta Classroom Canines: A program providing schools with weekly dog visits.
- Share Reading Dogs Program: Run by Animal Welfare League Queensland, this program facilitates regular dog visits to schools.
Of course, you can also simply have your kid read to little Buster while you stay out of sight. And if you don’t have a family dog, Bridges says a stuffed animal can be an effective fill-in.