Certified Reading Therapy Dogs Build Children’s Confidence
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Learning to read can be tough for some children, but at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, kids have a special supporter – complete with big brown eyes, floppy ears, and a wagging tail.
For the last few years, a schnauzer-poodle mix named Buck has been encouraging kids to read by being their loyal, supportive companion as they sit beside him and venture through a book.
“Kids sign up and they can come with or without their parents and read to the dog,” said Laura Clark, children’s librarian. “Of course, the dog’s handler stays with them. It’s really cool because the kids seem to be more relaxed reading to a dog, which amazes me.”
Buck works with Quinn, a Newfoundland, and both dogs become patient, non-judgmental companions for children who are learning to read or need more confidence to read out loud. Once a week, children can sign up for a 10-minute appointment to read a book of their choice to either Buck or Quinn.
“There was one little boy who wasn’t reading and his goal was to read a whole book to Quinn,” said Clark. “He finally did and his parents were so happy. These dogs really do help.”
Brothers Nicholas, 4, and Lucas, 6, each read one book to Buck. For their parents, Jennifer and Mike, Buck has been an integral part in encouraging their sons to read.
“They love it,” said Jen. “Nick loves to read, but this has gotten him more interested. He won’t read to us, but he’ll read to the dog.”
Buck’s handlers, Ann and Elizabeth Ashworth, say they see that often. Children seem to be more comfortable reading to Buck than to friends and family.
“It’s very rewarding work,” said Ann. “It’s about getting kids involved with books and comfortable with books and build their confidence. When they read to Buck, he doesn’t know – he’s not going to tell them if they missed a word or pronounced it incorrectly. It’s to build their confidence. It’s very non-judgmental.”
Cindy Penfold said her 7-year-old son, Michael, has been reading to Buck and other therapy dogs for a couple months and she’s seen a tremendous amount of growth.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Penfold. “It’s great to help them be more engaged in their reading. It’s motivating and it helps kids get used to dogs. I think it’s an amazing program. The handlers are fantastic too – great dogs and great people.”
Buck is at the library every Monday at 2 p.m. during the summer; Quinn is on summer vacation. During the school year, he’ll be at the library every Saturday afternoon.
"It's a happy time," said Ann. "It's very relaxing. Age doesn't matter, ability doesn't matter, Buck is here to listen and be petted. He likes the attention. It's a fun time."