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Reading to Dogs

Shelter Buddies Reading Program - Humane Society of Missouri.jpg
Humane Society of Missouri
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Everyone likes to hear a story, and that includes shelter dogs. They are often shy, scared, in a strange place, and many respond positively when a child reads to them. In fact, it can make them more adoptable. And as it turns out, the dogs are not the only ones who benefit.

The Shelter Buddies Reading Program at the Humane Society of Missouri allows children between the ages of six to fifteen years old to sign up to read books to shelter dogs.  The idea is to let a child sit outside a dog kennel and read a book to the dog.  They have found that reading to dogs helps reduce the animals’ anxiety, and it nurtures empathy in the children – but - that’s not all.

About ten years ago at the University of California, Davis, researchers set up an experiment to measure the effectiveness of such programs.  Each child in the study spent time every week reading to a dog.  After ten weeks the children were tested, and the results surprised even the most skeptical researchers.   Based on the beginning ability of the readers, the study found an increase of from twelve to thirty percent in reading fluency.  Children in a control group in the same program who did not read to dogs showed almost no improvement.

     It seems that children may be uncomfortable reading to other humans, because they might make mistakes.  But, when they’re reading to a dog, there’s no such pressure.  If a child stumbles over a word, or mispronounces it, or even stutters, the dog doesn’t care.  The animal offers nonjudgmental companionship to a young reader as it sits patiently listening to the child read a book.  In fact, many of the children believe the dogs really understand the stories being read to them.

     What the dogs offer the children is total acceptance, a stress-free relationship, and a confidence to read aloud without fear of being laughed at or corrected.  And isn’t that what we all want – someone that will listen without judging, who loves us without reservation?  October is Adopt-a-Dog Month, a great time to find your own special canine companion.  Visit your local animal shelter or rescue group and improve your life (and maybe your reading skills) - adopt a new best friend.  You’ll discover that love is a four-legged word, when you’re speaking of pets. 

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Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.