Learning to Read with Man’s Best Friend

They roll over and fetch, but did you know that dogs can also help children learn how to read? While they can’t actually teach the ABC’s, dogs can lend a nonjudgmental ear as kids tackle new words and string them into sentences. 

Such is the case with the Reading Education Assistance Dog Program (R.E.A.D.) at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. 

“Originally, the R.E.A.D. program was launched in 1999 as the first comprehensive literacy program built around the appealing idea of reading to dogs, and the program has been spreading rapidly and happily ever since,” said R.E.A.D. Teams Coordinator, Jacque Barrington. Barrington, along with her dog Dustee, has been part of this program since 2005.

Every TuesdayThursday from 1:30-3:00 p.m., this free program is available to all children, 4 to 10 years old. Volunteers and their dogs work with children one-on-one for about 20 minutes as they practice their reading skills.

“Kids who are learning to read need low-pressure opportunities to practice reading out loud. When reading with adults, kids are in instruction-mode, getting feedback and being evaluated on their progress,” says Youth Services Librarian, Kristy Kemper Hodge. “When reading to a dog, they can make mistakes and simply practice their reading without any worries about how well they are doing.”

Kemper Hodge says that there are families who come every month to read with a dog because they love it so much. Even children who have mastered their basic reading skills return to see the dogs. And the dogs are just as happy to see the kids.

“Our READ teams (handler plus dog) are all volunteers, who provide this amazing service at no cost to the library! Their dedication to service is amazing and very strong; handlers often tell library staff how excited their dogs get when they are heading to the library for a READ day,” said Kemper Hodge. 

Because the R.E.A.D. Program is under the Alliance of Therapy Dogs umbrella, all dogs and handlers are insured for liability and are required to go through reading education training in addition to their extensive training and registration to do animal-assisted therapy. You can be sure that your children are in the right hands, and paws. Yep, I said it! 

“I have literally witnessed ‘miracles’ in this program,” says Barrington. “Children who haven’t read yet who began reading to the dog, [and] children who are afraid of dogs overcome their fears as soon as they realize the dog is safe.”

Parental Permission Form required for children to enjoy the program. For more information contact Youth Reference at 541-766-6794. If you are interested in having your dog participate in the R.E.A.D. program, please contact Welcome Waggers, Wendy McCoy, at 541-760-0476.

By Anika Lautenbach

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