Metropolitan Library System Partners with Therapy Dogs to Improve Children’s Literacy

Can a dog help a child become a better reader? As odd as it sounds, a study at the University of California showed that reading aloud to a canine listener not only improves a child’s reading skills by as much as 12 percent in 10 weeks but also creates confidence in speaking aloud.

The Oklahoma Metropolitan Library System believes dogs can help children read better, and the Reading to Dogs program has been so popular over the past decade that it continues to grow.

“The Reading to Dogs program started over 10 years ago. We have different teams bring their therapy dogs to the library, sometimes up to four a time, and those dogs sit there with a child to encourage children to read aloud,” says Kim Terry, director of marketing and communication for the Metropolitan Library System.

“Reading to a dog increases a child’s self-confidence. Dogs aren’t going to judge you or laugh at you when you make a mistake. We’ve found that the program not only makes children better readers but also increases their self-confidence in speaking aloud.”

This summer, children from around the metro area sat with dogs ranging from Yorkies to golden retrievers, reading stories aloud while the adults sat off in the corner. Kim says the changes she sees in the young readers can be amazing.

“We had one girl who was on the autism spectrum who had a hard time speaking aloud and reading. She took part in Reading to Dogs for several years, and now she has her own therapy dog that she takes out to hospitals and nursing homes. It’s huge. Parents love to see their kids reading. They want their child to be better readers, but sometimes a child won’t read at home because they don’t want to be corrected or fail.”

Joy Lauffenburger was diagnosed with autism at age 7. After participating in the program, she and her own therapy dog, Goldie, speak around the country about autism. Goldie was inducted into the Oklahoma State Veterinary Medical Association Hall of Fame in 2009.

The therapy dogs are the same kinds taken to children’s hospitals, nursing homes and more. They are used to be petted, handled and read to, and Kim says the bond between child and her canine friend builds that natural confidence children want to have.

“It’s a non-judgemental environment,” she says. “The dog isn’t going to laugh at you or talk down to you. It just likes the attention.”

Local therapy groups bring their animals to the Reading to Dogs program, and Kim says there is never any shortage of people willing to bring their dogs to the libraries for kids to read to.

Brandy Pierce learned about Reading to Dogs while involved with pet therapy back in 2010. Although her golden retriever, Daisy, was older, she saw a need at the Choctaw Library for a team and applied.

“We see the children just once a month; however when a returning child comes into the room, they immediately remember Daisy, and most will remember her name,” Brandy says. “I think the novelty of the children seeing a dog in the library is a bit of an unexpected shock and so at first, they approach us a bit timidly. Typically, with a bit of encouragement, they blossom during the reading hour. No matter what their reading level, the children respond positively to Daisy, and each meeting sees the child growing more confident in their ability and in their relationship with Daisy.”

For more information on the Reading to Dogs program, visit MetroLibrary.org.