Reading Goes To The Dogs

Remember back when you were a kid?  I mean way back, when you were just a little nipper, in school learning to read.

I recall my first or second grade teacher, Mrs. SomethingOrAnother (see how much of an impact she made) scratching what could have been Cyrillic letters on the blackboard.  Through a dense cloud of chalk dust, squiggles and lines appeared.  The word forming power of the alphabet, unleashed in all its intimidating glory.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

The popular teaching style back then, I firmly believe, came from secret documents smuggled from Soviet work camps in the frozen wastelands of Siberia.  You. Will. Learn.  No excuses, no second chances.  Memorize, read and repeat.  Your very soul faced damnation if you fell behind.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of                                             (My second grade class photo)

Reading was torture, a punishment doled out for talking in class.  Then, “The Day” came, the day you had to read out loud, in front of the entire class.  Children are cruel. The classroom became a Lord of the Flies reenactment and I was headed for slaughter.  I was one of the lucky ones.  I survived.  Others took a brutal verbal pounding from classmates and teachers.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

There has to be a better way, right?

Fast forward to this last week.  Have you ever read to a dog?

Yep, you heard right, read – to a dog.

Our three-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Tanner, is a certified therapy dog.  My wife does much of the therapy work with him while I prepare our eighteen-month old Corgi, Emma for therapy certification.  Tanner and Ann-Marie take tours through nursing homes, assisted living facilities and memory care units, offering a moment of comfort to aging people.  Sometimes, a brief flicker of a smile blossoms in a moment of recognition of a locked away memory.  Tanner also goes to schools, boys & girls clubs and libraries, where kids read to a group of therapy dogs.

Tanner with a new friend

Tanner with a new friend

The first time I saw the interaction between a kid reading a book to a dog, it blew me away.  The child sits on the floor and simply reads to a random dog.  The dog doesn’t judge how well the kid reads, or make fun of him when he stumbles over words.  The child seems to ignore the person with the dog and simply reads for the joy of reading.  Most of the kids say they have dogs at home, but they come, wait in lines and take turns reading to Tanner and other therapy dogs.

How cool is that?  Reading isn’t punishment any longer.  I would have loved that approach instead of the hooked on phonics gulag I attended.  If you see a reading to the dogs event near you, go check it out, even if you don’t have a child participating.  It will give you a warm and fuzzy feeling and we can all use more of those moments.


  1. This one made me tear up. Can just picture it. And kudos to you and your wife for being a “Mom and Dad” to almost-two certified therapy dogs. What an experience that must be. Hope to read more about it in a future post (hint-hint)

    1. Thanks Diane. We do get a kick out of our little furry critters. I have have to admit i get a lot of warm and fuzzy out of the whole deal. They always seem to know when I need a smile break. And OK…I get the hint, more to come.

  2. Pamela La Vallee · · Reply

    If you would like to do local therapy with mental patients let me know. I used to do it at the county Psychiatric Health Facility and still know people there for you to contact once your dogs are certified. I love the reading programs too.

    1. Thanks for the idea Pam. Tanner and Ann-Marie are a certified team now and I’m set to get Emma certified this spring. PHF would take a very experienced team but it would be a great place to bring a little furry calmness. Thanks Pam.

  3. […] I’ve mentioned Emma and Tanner the Corgis in a few previous posts. I write with them and they are both trained as Therapy Dogs. […]

  4. So sweet. I love the bond between kids and dogs, and helping reluctant readers is a wonderful way to harness that bond.

    1. The reading to the dogs has become one of our favorite therapy activities. The dogs have their favorite readers. One little girl was so cute when she gave our corgi Emma a handmade birthday card.

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