Read to a Dog

I’ve been spending the week with my parents and their Rottweiler named Zoe (who is frequently referred to as my sister, LOL.) Zoe is part of their local therapy dog program. My parents take her to nursing homes, schools, and other places where she can visit people who benefit from her companionship. Once a month, they participate in their library’s Read to a Dog program. I went with them on their most recent visit and was so impressed with the experience, I thought I’d share it here.

I’m always interested in the practical/management aspects of stuff like this, so here’s how the event is organized. The library advertises and asks families to sign up a few days in advance. A local therapy dog group (people who have taken their dogs through special training courses) are notified of how many children are expected and are asked via email to volunteer. Ideally, there’s an even match between the number of kids and the number of dogs, but it’s not really necessary.

Read to a Dog program

At the event, the dog owners arrive a few minutes early and set up chairs in a circle around the perimeter of the room so that there’s a different station for each dog. The kids then come in and choose a book from a selection the librarian has made available. (Most of the kids choose books about dogs, which is super cute and makes total sense—what other kind of story would a dog be interested in?)

The kids take their book along with a slip of paper to any dog they’d like. They give their slip to the dog owner, who writes the dog’s name as a record of who they’ve read to, and then they start reading. When they’re done, they can pick another dog to read to, or if there are no dogs available, they just stand in the center of the room for a few seconds until there’s an open spot.

The kids I saw all loved reading to the dogs: it was a relaxed, casual atmosphere with no pressure on the kids to perform. No one was correcting them as they read or asking them comprehension questions—it was simply a time to enjoy books and animals. Most of the kids chose to read the same book to every dog in the group, which meant they had a lot of opportunities to develop fluency, practice reading with expression, and build their confidence as they read the same text repeatedly.

Reading to a pet is a great experience for all types of kids, but it could be especially beneficial for emerging readers, English Language learners, reluctant readers, and kids with special needs or learning disabilities. It’s so much less intimidating than reading aloud in front of peers or adults. Some of the kids who participated were actually very strong readers who enjoyed being around the animals: for them, this was simply a chance to have an audience for their reading and a chance to share books they love.

If you’re looking for a free literacy resource you can recommend to your students’ parents, I encourage you to search online for a Read to a Dog program in your area. You can also contact local therapy dog groups and ask them to come to your classroom so your students can read to the dogs. This could become a monthly routine or a special reward that the kids earn. There’s even some effectiveness research you can show your admin to get them on board.

Have you ever had your students participated in a Read to a Dog program or something similar? Please share your experiences/resources in the comments!

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emily January 23, 2014 at 6:24 pm

My dog is a therapy reading dog/school dog. She comes to work with me everyday- and has since she was 8 weeks old. As a classroom teacher, I’m lucky enough to have a “partner in crime” with our school counselor. My dog is a huge blessing to me- but I love her so much more when I see her with the kids. She has brought so much joy to the children. I’m a huge advocate for dogs in schools!!

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2 Angela Watson January 23, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Wow, that is fantastic, Emily! I’d love to hear more about the work she does with your students.

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3 Aimee January 23, 2014 at 8:29 pm

I am a second grade teacher and I had a entlebucher that was a registered therapy dog. I was allowed to bring him once a week in our after school program. Barnaby was used for pet care, obedience and approaching an unknown dog demonstrations. He also enjoyed listening to readers!

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4 Angela Watson January 23, 2014 at 9:57 pm

How cool! You’re so right that the dogs enjoy the experience just as much as the kids.

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5 Jen Paquette January 28, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Hi Angela-
I wanted to tell you how much I loved this post. I think anytime teaching can incorporate pets, it can add so much value & joy for kids. I grew up with many dogs & other animals. I have to say each one of my dogs brought so much joy in different ways. If a child can experience that magic, it is a true blessing. As a parent, I would love to see this program in every school and every child be able to connect with a dog through reading. I also would love to see dogs in schools as just a normal, regular thing. Thank you for this wonderfulness :)
Love,
Jen

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