Reading to Therapy Dogs Transforms Readers


Reading to Therapy Dogs Transform Kids Into Confident Readers

Walk into the New Berlin Public Library or Watertown Public Library on a particular night and you might just find Bo, Chloe, Marco, or Goliath stretched out on the floor in the children’s area, tails wagging, listening to a child read them a book. No, people aren’t sneaking in their pets. This is part of each library’s therapy dog reading program, in which kids have the opportunity to read aloud to trained therapy dogs, thus building important literacy and social skills. The children choose the books they want to read and spend 15 minutes or more reading with a canine companion. By providing quiet comfort, the therapy dogs transform into supportive reading buddies and trusted friends in a safe and welcoming space.

Girl reads to a Bernese Mountain Dog, one of the certified therapy dogs at the Watertown Public Library

This February, the libraries in Jefferson and Waukesha counties have been asking their communities “How has the library transformed your life?” through a month-long Libraries Transform campaign. This one question has generated fascinating answers that exemplify how transformative libraries can be: “I can find a list of jobs and homes for rent online.” “It gives me a chance to be more involved in my community.” “I can self-improve, travel, learn, and relax for free.” “I learned to make quiche.” And at therapy dog reading programs, libraries transform kids into confident readers.

The library staff at New Berlin Public Library recall parents who have recognized growth in their child’s reading abilities and improvement in their social interactions. Reading to the therapy dogs, one staff member theorized, makes the kids “feel accepted, comfortable, and that they have non-judgmental friends.” When asked why she liked to read to Bo, a little girl responded that Bo doesn’t correct her, and that he’s kind and cuddly. Stacy Schroeder, a Watertown Public Library patron and mother of two girls, told me that reading to the therapy dogs is one of their favorite things to do. When I talked to her, her daughter Lauren was snuggled up next to Watson, a Bernese Mountain dog. “It’s a lot of fun,” Stacy continued. “It encourages them to read.” That’s true: according to studies cited in Public Libraries magazine, children who consistently read to therapy dogs improve their reading fluency by 12 percent, including “the ability to explain, describe, analyze, and infer.” Phyllis Schmoller is a member of the Bark River Therapy Dogs group, and the handler and owner of two therapy dogs, greyhounds named Eleazar and Miri. She says that kids are drawn to the therapy dogs because they don’t judge. “[The kids] really do read to the dogs. They show them the pictures in the book. There are kids who won’t read unless the dogs are here.”

Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from this program. A woman with a speech impediment has come in to New Berlin Public Library to practice with the therapy dogs, as did someone trying to improve her English. More libraries in Waukesha and Jefferson counties are recognizing the importance of these special canine reading programs too. The Dwight Foster Public Library in Fort Atkinson, Hartland Public Library, Delafield Public Library, the L.D. Fargo Library in Lake Mills, and others offer similar reading programs, offering a unique opportunity for budding or struggling readers to transform into confident kids.

Find dates for the Read to Rover program on New Berlin Public Library’s Event Calendar at www.newberlinlibrary.org/calendar. Find future dates for Watertown Public Library’s Reading with Rover program at http://watertownpubliclibrary.evanced.info/signup/Calendar.

A version of this article appeared in the Waukesha Freeman, the Oconomowoc Enterprise, the Daily Jefferson County Union, and the Watertown Times. We will be sharing those pieces here on our website a few weeks after each piece has been printed.