Reading to a Dog

a sweet faced tawny long-haired golden retriever stands in the library, leash tied to a chair, wearing a green therapy jacket with her name Penny embroidered on itLast week, I mailed in our paperwork (forms, medical history) for the Paws for Reading program, which provides a motivational and non-judgmental venue for young children to improve their reading skills by reading to a friendly dog. Yesterday, I went to our local library to check out a Paws for Reading team at work. This lovely golden retriever Penny was the canine part of the reading team.

two young boys about 5 years old, sit in blue chairs reading books, while Penny lays at their feet on a blanketWhile the human part of the reading team got things ready, arranging the furniture, taking out a sign-up clipboard and other materials, several children lined up, waiting for their turn to read. The kids were so cute! I wondered, would kids line up and be so excited to read to a human? I doubt it. But the thought of reading to a snuggly dog (even if the dog doesn't seem to be listening) definitely excited them and motivated them.

Qualifications for being a therapy/reading dog include: accepting a friendly stranger, ignoring food on the floor, negotiating tight spaces, allowing their paws and tail to be handled/grabbed, being calm around medical equipment, quick recovery from loud noises, not reacting to "odd" characteristics (shuffling gait, canes or crutches, wearing unfamiliar clothes or paraphernalia). Dogs must also pass the Canine Good Citizen test, and only flat collars can be used (no metal collars or head collars).

I worried that Penny would be "perfect" and that I would feel discouraged about Cabana's ability to do the job. But somewhat to my relief, Penny was not perfect. She was as sweet as can be, but she licked a lot, licking me, the kids and her handler. She also tried to jump up on the chairs (without any kids sitting in them), and sadly, she wasn't really interested in what the kids were reading! In fact, she dozed off in the middle of a book. I thought the dogs would be trained to at least feign interest! But I guess that's too much to expect, and obviously, the kids didn't care that much whether the dog seemed to be listening or not.

So I left the library feeling encouraged. I haven't heard back from the program yet, but the next class doesn't start until the end of October, so I don't expect to hear anything for a while yet. Gives us a good amount of time to keep working on obedience and walking skills. I've been walking Cabana with just a flat collar lately, in preparation for the testing. She has been doing great, except when other dogs pass by--but we are allowed to use treats, even for the test, so I definitely won't be phasing those out just yet!

Brittany  – (August 11, 2010 at 8:30 AM)  

That is a great program! I am sure Cabana will be able to handle it just fine.

If not for Hobbs' cautiousness around children he would be great for this too. Patriot would just knock the children over....

Raiser Erin  – (August 11, 2010 at 9:27 AM)  

That is a gorgeous Golden! I've always wanted Arwen to do something like that, but she hates having her tail pulled on. I think Cabana would be perfect for it!

Cassie and Dagan  – (August 11, 2010 at 11:13 AM)  

That sounds great! I bet Cabana will listen to every word! Just FYI, Jack does that program too if you are looking for more info or have questions :) He reads on Saturdays I believe (or he did the last 2 anyways), but I don't know which library he is at.

Becky  – (August 11, 2010 at 8:50 PM)  

My dear friend, Debi, does this with her lab. Cabana would be fabulous at this at this.

Elizabeth  – (August 11, 2010 at 9:55 PM)  

She does look like she is enjoying herself!!!

Elizabeth & Luna

Heather  – (August 12, 2010 at 12:26 PM)  

That's great! The reading program has always appealed to me, but I've never gotten around to it having only a temporary dog and whatnot. I didn't know you could use treats during the test--I thought that was as forbidden as training collars. But maybe they've changed the rules!

Lisa, Ellie and Hosta  – (August 13, 2010 at 6:23 PM)  

WOW - that sounds like a great program! Cabana will love being a part of that!

Jen  – (August 14, 2010 at 3:40 AM)  

Sounds like a great idea. Its amazing how children will do things easier if they think the dog is watching and listening. I've tried this a few times when I've taken OJ into schools to visit.

Mango  – (August 15, 2010 at 5:37 AM)  

What do you mean leave food on the floor? I thought doggies were extra backup cleaning machines. Hey! They shouldn't have food in the library anyway, right?

Slobbers,
Mango

Kari in WeHo  – (August 15, 2010 at 9:34 AM)  

We were working on this with the Peninsula Humane Society in NorCal since we think Baily would be awesome. Haven't found a good program down here.

Don't forget, we moved to http://dogisgodinreverse.com/

Martha G  – (August 15, 2010 at 6:25 PM)  

The reading program will be great for Cabana! I look forward to hearing more about it. I bet she won't fall asleep when being read to.

I thought that dogs were trained to follow a finger across the page. There are probably different techniques for different programs.

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