Canine Assistants K9 Kids Reading Program
Jennifer Arnold and Canine Assistants
I’d watched as Mollie laid down with her hips cocked to one side so the boy could snuggle into the lap she created between her front legs and her back legs, a spot I’ve always called a dog’s crook. As the little boy leaned back against the big dog, Mollie curved her neck just enough to lightly rest her head on his legs. I turned to the Reading Specialist, Bonnie, who’d helped us developed this program and said, “That may be the cutest thing I ever seen.” Bonnie, a soft-spoken gentle soul, nearly shouted back at me, “No, it is not cute! What it is, is important!”
Startled by her own vehemence, Bonnie quickly explained that studies have shown how children feel about reading, and therefore how well they do academically and in life, is largely determined by the feelings they experience as they learn to read. “That,” she continued, “is why lap reading is so important for children. Not only do they learn to read, but they feel safe and loved as they go about doing it.” Bonnie concluded that I was looking at a little boy who had likely never been read to or listened to while sitting in anyone’s lap…at least until Mollie came along.
The K9 Kids Program started at Canine Assistants in 2002 after Dr. Melissa Loree, our Director of Education, heard the story of a library in Utah where a similar program was taking place. The concept was the brain child of a Utah librarian who realized that the affinity between dogs and children could be used to motivated children to read, especially those children who were struggling to read at grade level and uncomfortable practicing in front of other people, especially other students.
Dr. Loree correctly surmised that Canine Assistants service-dogs-in-training would be perfect for such a job. One of the behaviors our dogs learn on cue is “look” so that the children can point to a picture in a book and the dog will focus on it. In addition, our dogs learn to do long down-stays and good snuggles--perfect for listening to a reading child. The K9 Kids Program is wonderful for our dogs. They learn while having fun. Studies show equally positive results for the children who participate.
The children love the program. They practice reading so that they can perform well when the dogs come to hear them. The program makes an immediate impact, as well as a long-lasting one. The little boy I saw with Mollie was reading at grade level within 12 Mollie-facilitated sessions. His other teachers reported that his class work and self-confidence had improved significantly. And best yet, he went on to attend college, something that may not have been possible without the help of K9 Kids.
I still insist the picture of that little boy reading to Mollie was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, but now I also realize that picture was an important one in the life of a child. Dogs rock, don’t they?
- Filed Under: Advisory Board