They give seniors a lift and a smile and help lower the blood of pressure of hospital patients. Our canine companions can also help kids learn to read.
For Buttons, presumably named because he’s as cute as one, the job of reading tutor comes naturally.
All he has to do is sit quietly, and listen to kids read books out loud. By doing so, he’s an uncritical audience who won’t correct mispronunciation or grammar. That instills confidence in kids who are reluctant to read.
With more confidence there’s willingness to read by themselves – and the reading gap can be bridged.
“People have been reading to dogs for a while,” said librarian Susan Redmond, who started the Paws 4 Stories program in Pitt Meadows Public Library in February after being approached by the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs. The program resumes in September for six weeks.
“Dogs have a very soothing effect.
“It helps make reading seem less intimidating than it is when you’re reading to a person who you know can read better than you.
“You can be come quite flummoxed by that. But they know dogs can’t read so it doesn’t really matter. The dog just gets to listen.”
Although it was rolled out as a pilot program it’s drawn good response from parents. After completing the weekly program for six weeks, students can advance two reading levels, Redmond said. Students are usually in Grade 2 or 3 and are referred to the program by local teachers.
Spend a bit of time with Buttons and it’s easy to see why he’s good at his job. He loves the attention and the pats and laughs from the kids and hams up his role of entertainer is good at reading people’s different personalities.
“This is Buttons, in all his glory,” says owner John McDonald as the dog is swarmed by kids during a library visit. He and his wife Yvonne, who does most of the training, offered Buttons’ services.
“He’s a very happy, go-lucky dog.”
According to the Therapy Dogs International website, kids with reading difficulties lack confidence in reading out loud to the class. But when reading to a dog, “The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on the reading.”
Each reading session takes place for 15 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. Buttons does that for four kids, putting in about an hour-long shift, then is done for the day.
It’s not easy for a dog to be on his best behaviour so it has to be done in short stints, says McDonald. “It’s very tiring, being petted.”
Buttons, a Lhasa-Apso – Szhitsu cross, also makes calls at the Ridge Meadows Hospital and Willow Manor which can push his work week up to four or five hours.
“Any place he visits, he reckons he rules the roost.”
Before a dog joins the therapy program they must be evaluated to see if they’re suitable and trained to ensure they can stand being on good behaviour for long periods of time.
The program has grown to the point there’s now 53 volunteer dogs based out of the Ridge Meadows St. John Ambulance therapy dog program.
“We just have all breeds. It’s the temperament of the dog that’s important,” says McDonald.
“Its just something my wife and I really wanted to do. Our dog has such a positive attitude with kids and he loves doing it. As long he loves doing it, we’ll keep doing it.”