Reading can be daunting for children who struggle to learn, but having a dog there to listen, sitting quietly without judging, can improve their reading skills by boosting self-confidence.
That’s why many libraries across the country have brought on certified therapy dogs to help kids learn how to read. Even for kids who read well, having a dog there just makes the experience more exciting, which can foster a love of reading.
Children in kindergarten through fifth grade can read with a therapy dog at North River Library in Bridgewater every fourth Tuesday of the month. The Dogs 2 Read 2 program was started about seven years ago, according to Bly Brown, branch manager of North River Library.
Several therapy dogs have visited the library over the years, but Cash, a mixed breed dog, is currently the canine who comes to North River most of the time.
“He’s very lovely toward all the children that come,” Brown said.
A 9-year-old black lab named Denver occasionally substitutes for Cash.
The dogs and their owners are trained through Therapy Dogs International, a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey, before they can visit libraries, as well as nursing homes, hospitals and schools.
“They’re certified and they come in with a certain collar and a vest that they wear and they’re always on a leash,” Brown said.
Therapy Dogs International has been training service dogs since 1967. As of 2012, there were 24,750 dog/handler teams registered with the organization, according to TDI’s website.
In order for a dog to receive certification, the dog must be at least 1 year old and “must pass a TDI temperament evaluation for suitability to become a Therapy Dog. The test will also include the evaluation of the dog’s behavior around people with the use of some type of service equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, etc.),” TDI’s website states.
Brown said some children come just to spend time with a dog if they aren’t able to have a pet of their own. The program also helps young ones overcome their fear of dogs.
“I’ve always seen children come in who are afraid of dogs and the parents and owner encourage them to pet Cash and get close to him,” she said. “That’s very beneficial if the parent would like the child to have interaction with a dog.”
Some children will share a book with Cash, although not all do.
“Some children are more excited about reading to them and some kids just want to come in and hug him and sit on the floor with him,” Brown said. “It’s very therapeutic and calming to pet a dog. He’s very docile and friendly.”
While Cash has been a hit with the kids, he’s also become popular among adults, who have requested the library start an adult program with the therapy dog.
The first adult program will begin at noon on May 11 for an hour and will continue on Fridays during the summer months.
“Some people just need that connection,” Brown said.
The next children’s Dogs 2 Read 2 program, which is offered year round, will take place on May 22 from 4 to 5 p.m. Participants can bring their own book or borrow one from the library. Dog bookmarks and stickers will be available for the kids, too.
“It’s sort of a dog happening once a month,” Brown said.
North River Library is located at 118 Mount Crawford Ave.