Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sit. Stay. Listen.

This might just be the cutest and most heart-warming library program I have ever encountered - children gaining self-confidence and improving their literacy skills by reading to dogs in the library.  According to an article in August's issue of American Libraries magazine, libraries across the United States (and some closer to home) are bringing registered therapy dogs into the library a couple times a month to listen to kids read.
The programs, with names such as "Read to Your Breed," "PAWS to Read," and "PAWS for a Story" provide a safe and nurturing environment for beginning and struggling readers.  While most children would find it an exciting change to read to a dog, the experience is especially beneficial for children who may be slower readers than their peers.  Since animals are perceived as uncritical, it is easier for a child to read to a dog than it is for them to read to a grownup.  Gloria Laube, a certified dog handler, noticed that children who read to dogs "become more confident readers as well as develop more self-confidence socially.  Some children who would barely whisper were reading normally after a few weeks" (Hartman, 2010).  Gloria is so passionate about the program that she started, a website designed to encourage others to start up similar programs.

Now, some of you may be hesitant about bringing a dog into the library fearing that they might be messy or might misbehave, but this is why the programs only use trained therapy dogs.  Therapy dogs are trained to listen to commands and have calm temperaments that make children feel comfortable. They are also well groomed and have no problems staying on a leash.  The dogs used in Read to Your Breed (San Diego Public Library) stay on a leash and sit on a mat or blanket the whole time they are in the library.  Sunny, an 80 pound Collie even lets the children cuddle up to her while they read and is attentive during the story.  

I thought this was such a great idea that I did a bit more research on similar programs and discovered that Edmonton Public Library has already embraced this idea.  In collaboration with the Pet Therapy Society of Northern Alberta 14 out of 17 EPL branches present PAWS for a Story at least once a month.

Libraries looking to use therapy dogs in the library should check out:
Library Dogs

(Reference: Hartman, Anna. "Good Dog. Sit. Listen." American Libraries, August 2010

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