Read to a Dog Programs: A Cuddly Option for Young Readers - 510 Families
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Read to a Dog Programs: A Cuddly Option for Young Readers

Learning to read takes time and lots of practice. Some kids love reading at home to mom, dad, or siblings, but others find it challenging or embarrassing. Local libraries have stepped in to offer Read to a Dog programs, which provide beginning and advanced readers an opportunity to read aloud to trained therapy dogs.

Child reading a book to a dog
Therapy dog Blue calmly listens to children read | Photo: Maureen Burke

What to Expect

Parents can register children to participate in a local library’s program. Each library has a different registration procedure — some require advance notice while others ask you to sign up the day of. Call your library to understand how to reserve your child a slot.

Once you’re there, each child or family is paired with a dog (plus their handler/owner). These trained therapy dogs range in size and breed, but all are extremely friendly and calm. The child selects a book and the reading begins. Some dogs lounge, others sleep, and a few may beg for a scratch or tummy rub. All in all, it’s very sweet to see the dogs give the children love and attention. The dog handlers are also very kind and encouraging to the young readers. Though it’s worth noting that the dog handlers aren’t necessarily reading specialists, so you may want to sit next to your child and employ any reading tips and tricks that they have learned in the classroom. The reading lasts about 15 minutes and most kids work through 1-2 books. The session can be closed out with some snuggle time with the therapy dogs.

Child reading to a therapy dog in the library
Therapy dogs and their human handlers provide support to young readers | Photo: Maureen Burke

On the whole, the program is geared toward children ages 6 to 12, give or take a year or so. In my experience, younger, non-reading siblings are welcome to join and listen to the reader(s) of your family. Parents and caregivers should remain in the designated Read to a Dog area.

Benefits For Your Child

Studies show that reading to a dog can improve a child’s confidence and attitude toward reading. The furry friends are so lovable and supportive and enjoy being around the kids no matter their reading level. The animals’ calm vibes are infectious and it’s incredible to see how the children mimic their energy. But if your little reader is wiggly, the dogs don’t mind that either. For children who are nervous around dogs, therapy dogs offer a safe and comfortable space to tackle their fear.

Learn more about some local therapy dogs, Ozzy and Blue, in this documentary made by a group out of Berkeley City College.

Child reading to a dog at library
Reading to Pixie at El Cerrito Library | Photo: Maureen Burke

Where to Find Read-to-a-Dog Programs

Read to a Dog programs are offered at various times by branches in the Oakland Public Library, Berkeley Public Library, and Contra Costa County systems.

Register in Advance Therapy Dog Reading Programs

El Cerrito: Every other Tuesday evening, kids can read to one of several therapy dogs in the Children’s section of the library. Registration is required and can be completed online or over the phone.

Lafayette: Kids ages 6 and older can read to practice their literacy skills by reading to Breeja, a certified therapy dog Breeja from Alliance Dog Therapy, on Tuesday afternoons. Registration is required and opens up a week in advance.

Orinda: On Thursday afternoons, parents can register kids for the weekly Paws to Read program. For children in 1-5 grade. Advance registration is required and can be completed online.

Ygnacio ValleyOnce a month, the All Ears Reading program provides kids an opportunity to read to certified therapy dogs from ARF’s Pet Hug Pack. Register online prior to the event. Ideal for children in grades 1-5.

Berkeley North Branch: Several dogs were available for reading at the North Branch library in February and March. Another session is planned in the coming months. Registration is required via phone.

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