Family Matters: Children reading to dogs

Our furry friends can do a lot more than fetch and roll over. Therapy dogs are proving effective in helping children learn to read.

And the effects of the concept are seen right here in the metro.

10-year-old Malea Byrd is used to reading out loud, but her audience at the Village Library isn't classmates or a teacher. It's a golden retriever named Boone.

"It was pretty awesome because he was nice," said Byrd. "He wasn't barking or anything. I thought that was really nice of him to sit there and let me read to him."

It was Byrd's first time reading to a dog through the Metro Library Systems's 'Children Reading to Dogs" program. But certified therapy dog, Boone, has been at this for three years with his handler, Carla Templeton.

"Boone knows when he puts on his bandana and his blue leash that he's going to work with children," said Templeton. "We have really found our niche there."

Several studies have shown children who read to dogs regularly out-perform their peers who don't. It's also been effective for older children with learning disabilities.

Dogs are a perfect audience for children who struggle when reading. There's no embarrassment when they mess up, and they're free to sound out words.

"It's easy to read to them," said Templeton. "They don't judge you. They don't comment."

Even when the child stumbles, the dog doesn't laugh or mock. It's a lot different than the environment some kids face when reading out loud at school.

"Sometimes, usually in class, people will try to make fun of me and bring me down," said Byrd. "But it's okay."

Confidence that comes from reading out loud to dogs like Boone is just the beginning. The key to becoming a good reader is lots and lots of practice.

"Once the child has been able to do it, then they kind of lose their inhibitions," said Templeton. "And then they do better in class."

Dogs like Boone promise to be great listeners for any story a child wants to read. It's an opportunity that could lead to life-long love of reading.

The Children Reading to Dogs program is on-going at libraries throughout the metro. The calendar is posted here.