Therapy Dogs and Reading
When I was in first grade, my family began to notice my lack of interest in reading. I spent most of my time building villages in my sandbox, drawing, and climbing trees, while they always carried a book everywhere they went. To me, reading was some magical thing they did that had nothing to do with me. Enter my grandmother, the elementary school teacher. She was enlisted to help me with reading. Now that I think of those torturous sessions, I realize that I was not the only one being tortured! My poor grandmother required incredible amounts of patience. Eventually, I learned to read, but never with the pleasure that my family experienced daily. I was slow and had to hear every word in my mind. I dreaded reading aloud in class. I would count the paragraphs other students before me would be reading and try to figure out and practice mine in advance. I never heard what anyone else read because of my state of terror. It was very easy for me to mix up words, making my peers laugh and horribly embarrassing myself. It was an ordeal.
Summer reading lists were another nightmare. It took all summer for me to read the required books. Other kids got them out of the way fast. They got to have a pressure-free summer. I enjoyed most in the end, but some were excruciating to read. I always checked to see how many pages were in each book and prayed that they would be of interest to me.
I am still a slow reader, but I love to read, thank goodness. Once I made it through grad school, I could read about my varied interests or a great classic novel I always heard of. I read lots of short stories in the New Yorker and research papers about speech pathology. I fell in love with reading poetry aloud. One day, I had a new student in the high school I worked at. He shared his ideas with me and it was the first time I heard a teen express his thoughts and it sounded just like me as a teen. I had worked there for 10 years and not one student had said anything I would have had at their age, until this student. He was profoundly dyslexic (SLPs are often part of the team involved with teaching reading skills). This sent me off on a quest to learn all about his disability, and I realized that to a minor degree I had experienced the same disability. I was in my 50s and just putting a name on what I had experienced.
Fast forward to now. Last year, I became a dog owner for the first time to a puppy, Cricket, who is incredibly social. After a few months of trying to arrange doggy play dates and taking her to more populated places, I realized that training her as a therapy dog would be the perfect solution. Therapy dogs are different from service dogs. The mission of the team (dog and owner), according to the therapy dog company I will register with, is “to form a network of caring individuals who are willing to share their special dogs in order to bring happiness and cheer to people, young and old alike.” My dog loves people of all ages. She delights in their attention, and as a therapist, I always want to help people, so it is a perfect match for us. We have just passed our certification requirements and will soon be official.
We did most of our training in a local nursing home. It is amazing to see people light up when a dog comes in their room. All kinds of stories about pets are shared as well as their life experiences, happy and sad. Some people share profound experiences as they stroke my pup. It can be very moving.
So what does this have to do with reading? It turns out that therapy dogs are used at libraries with children! Often the children come to read to the dogs. This gives them a stress free reading experience so that reading is purely fun! I would have been so happy to do this as a child. Bravo to our libraries for such a great idea!
Here is more information about therapy dogs at libraries:
For young adults, dogs at libraries of colleges and universities during finals week can help relieve stress. The dogs’ presence shows that the institution cares, and students get a break from stress while petting the dogs.
So, if your child struggles with reading, I would highly recommend a trip to a library that enlists the help of therapy dogs. Who knows, maybe Cricket and I will be there!
Saturday, May 16, 2015, 1:30pm – READING: The Westfield Athenaeum is hosting a Read to Rover event for kids ages 3-9. Young readers can practice reading stories aloud to specially-trained dogs, who offer non-judgmental, non-threatening attention. This is a wonderful opportunity for kids to improve their reading skills and their confidence in reading aloud. Please register in advance. 413-568-7833. 6 Elm Street. Westfield, MA. (FREE)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com.