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R.E.A.D. DOGS: A RADIO INTERVIEW WITH ROVER: Teaching Children to Read, One Dog at a Time [Bewitched, Bothered, & Bewildered]

I have heard of seeing-eye dogs. I’ve heard of therapy dogs, special assistant dogs, service dogs. But when I recently saw a newspaper headline about READING DOGS, I did a double take. Were there really dogs learning to read? That seemed pretty far-fetched. Well, joining me here to explain it all to me is MR. ROVER of the Intermountain Therapy Animals R.E.A.D. Program.

SF: Thanks for coming into the studio and talking with me today, Rover.

ROVER: But of woof. Pleasure to be here.

SF: So, I’ve got to be honest. I’ve heard of seeing-eye dogs, therapy dogs, and service dogs. But, a READING DOG? I couldn’t believe it!

ROVER: Yes, we get that reaction quite a lot.

SF: How on earth did you learn to read? Can all dogs be taught to read?

ROVER: We are not “READING DOGS” – we are “R.E.A.D. DOGS.”

SF: You’re…uh…what?

ROVER: You see, a R.E.A.D. dog is a registered therapy animal who volunteers with their handler as a team, going to schools, libraries, and other settings as reading companions for children.

SF: So, you’re saying it’s a literacy program based on the concept of children reading to dogs?

ROVER: Precisely.

SF: So, the dogs don’t read to the children.

ROVER: Of course not. That would be ridiculous.

SF: The children read to the dogs.

ROVER: Yes.

SF: And why do they read to dogs? I don’t see the connection here?

ROVER: The thing about dogs, and about reading, for that matter, is that NOT being able to read is seldom a purely intellectual problem. In fact, mostly it is a cultural or social or emotional difficulty. We are whole beings, and all the things we need to do and learn are not just isolated skills, but part of a whole context in ourselves.

SF: Okay, I’m with you…

ROVER: A lot of the kids we have worked with have home problems — domestic violence, or English is their second language, or their lives are filled with unpredictability and instability. And they bring those problems to school with them, as you know. Dogs always present their whole selves in any situation — no pretense, no holding back, no pretending to be something other than what they are or feel at that moment.

SF: And that kind of presence is very compelling for people in any therapeutic or learning situation.

ROVER: Exactly.

SF: How did you become associated with R.E.A.D. Dogs?

ROVER: I was living with a family, and one of the children, I’ll call him Joey, stumbled with words and reading. Every day in school he dreaded being called on for in-class reading, to the point it began seriously affecting his  self-esteem. Because of that, he shut down in a lot of ways, and – as you could imagine – hated reading!

SF: Actually, I can’t imagine that, but go on.

ROVER: You see, dogs are a wonderful vehicle for communication. The dog’s handler or – we prefer the term “guardian” -  can speak for and about the dog to make many valid points about pronunciation and comprehension.

SF: What might the handler – sorry – guardian say?

ROVER: They might say, “Rover has never heard that word before, Joey, can you tell him what it means?” The possibilities are endless, and the child feels less embarrassed than when he is put on the spot. Meanwhile there are little games to play — the dog helps turn pages with his paw or nose, the child can give the dog a treat after completing a certain number of pages, etc. We encourage our teams to build on the unique personalities of both the dog and handler, so each team develops their own singular “flavor,” if you will.

SF: Can any dog do this?  I have a Labrador retriever puppy at home. My husband and I currently have him enrolled in Puppy pre-school. But, after hearing your story, I think he would make a wonderful part of your organization. What would he need to do to become a R.E.A.D. DOG?

ROVER: A good Reading Education Assistance Dog ( I am obligated by law to say this – OR CAT)  is, first of all, a registered, tested and insured therapy animal. This means they have been screened for skills and temperament, health and cleanliness, good manners and attitude. They are animals who people can’t resist approaching; they inspire confidence and trust in the people around them. They are calm and reliable, obedient, and impeccably groomed to be attractive and fun to touch and stroke. They enjoy children, and like curling up on the floor with them to hear stories.

SF: And, the guardian must be onboard, too?

ROVER: Obviously.

SF:  This has been so enlightening. Thank you to all of our listeners out there, both canine and human.Talking with us this past hour, Rover from The Intermountain Therapy Animals’ R.E.A.D. Dog Program. Thank you, Mr. Rover.

ROVER: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.

SF: For more information about participating in the Intermountain Therapy Animals R.E.A.D. program, as either a dog, cat, or human, please go to http://www.therapyanimals.org/R.E.A.D.html

R.E.A.D. DOGS

Reading Education Assistance Dogs

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