Guest blog by Sally Keys, dyslexia parent and education writer
Learning to read can be a frustrating experience for students with a learning disability. Even students without a disability can sometimes struggle. The process can be slow, and at times it can seem like no progress is being made. But instead of getting frustrated, it’s better for teachers and parents to look for possible solutions.
One possible solution for students who are struggling to read is the use of reading dogs. For nearly two decades, therapy dogs have been trained to serve as reading tutors for children who have disabilities or are struggling to read. The positive impact these reading dogs have made on the educational process has been immense for students across the country.
The more a student struggles to read, the most frustrated they may become with the entire process. At a certain point, being asked to read aloud feels like they are being put on the spot. It’s easy for them to become anxious, nervous, and afraid of humiliating themselves in front of their teacher and peers, causing more harm than good. However, these are all problems reading dogs can help to solve.
Reading to a therapy dog is as simple as it sounds. Instead of reading to a teacher, parent, or classmate, students simply read aloud with a dog sitting beside them as a willing and eager listener. It’s as if the child is teaching the dog to read or simply recounting a story to a pet. Throughout the session, the dogs are trained to stay silent, allowing the student to read without interruption. With a dog (and an attentive one at that) as the audience, all the pressure is off, allowing them to feel more comfortable. The mere presence of a dog can be calming, and so there’s no need for a student to feel anxious or insecure while trying to read.
Students who have worked with therapy dogs have raved about the experience. Sitting down and reading to a dog becomes a safe space for many children who have been previously frustrated by the process. In many instances, reading has gone from being a chore that causes anxiety to being something enjoyable, all because of the confidence they gain by reading to therapy dogs.
Programs involving reading dogs have popped up all across the country, and the results have been almost exclusively positive. Several different dog breeds have been trained to serve as reading dogs, which is a promising sign that this is a trend that will continue to help students who struggle to read.
Learning Ally is a national nonprofit providing support to students who have print disabilities. To find out more, please visit LearningAlly.org