Children Read Aloud to Therapy Dogs to Boost Literacy Skills & Confidence

Sometimes, you just need a helping paw when learning to read, and that’s exactly the mission behind programs all over the world that pair children with therapy dogs for reading practice.

The first organization to do this was Intermountain Therapy Animals with its Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program. Founded in 1999, the mission of the READ program is to “improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.” Since the program’s start in Salt Lake City, Utah, it has now grown to include more than 3,500 registered therapy dog teams in the United States, Europe, and South Africa.

Here’s how it works: a dog plus the dog’s handler first must become a therapy dog team. Next, the team receives special training in literacy support and safe handling around children. Then the team, in partnership with schools, libraries, and other organizations, ventures out into the community to provide a nonjudgmental space for children to practice reading.

Judi Anderson-Wright, the founder of Seattle’s Project Canine, has been involved in training therapy dogs for well over a decade. She defines a therapy dog thusly: “A pet dog that has a fabulous relationship with its person who goes into the community to share kindness, compassion and the joy of being with an animal.”

Anderson-Wright calls therapy dogs exceptional animals who really enjoy being around people and can also handle the rigors of doing the various tasks therapy dogs are called upon to perform.

It was while working with her therapy dog Opie, a Jack Russell Terrier, that Anderson-Wright realized how much children loved talking to her partner. It was this relationship, plus her background in education, that inspired Anderson-Wright to establish Bow Wows and Books based on the READ curriculum.

“He was the muse and mentor for most everything that Project Canine has started,” Anderson-Wright says about Opie, who made therapy dog visits until he was 16.