| Feb 23, 2006


Feature Article - February 23, 2006

Feature Article

February 23, 2006

Whenstory time goes to the dogs

bySusanRamsay, EarlyLiteracy Specialist

A whistle usually brings him, unless of course he’s onto the scent of a squirrel. Juno races to my beck and call with Olympian enthusiasm, his puppy-like eyes brimming with excitement despite his sixty something dog years. When I read a dog lover’s email recently filled with dog witticisms, I had to agree with the quote by M. Acklam: “We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever made.”

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Dogs are loyal--and smart. (“If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two.”) Dogs are also amazing reading tutors. Programs developed through Ottawa Therapy Dogs, as well as other agencies across Canada and the United States, are using trained dogs to help children with reading or communication difficulties. The concept is simple. Dogs listen without interruption or judgement. They demonstrate patience and appreciation of time spent together while reading aloud. Reading tutor dogs with Ottawa Therapy Dogs are trained to put their head on a child’s knee or look at the book that the child is reading. Children are drawn to reading longer through the comfort of these attentive dogs. Communication programs developed by Julianne Labreche, a speech-language pathologist with the Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre, also use dogs and dog stories to help patients with Aphasia overcome their struggle to understand language and speak fluently.

While most of our children will never need therapeutic intervention, the premise of dog therapy is worth paying attention to. Though we want and need to help children understand letter-sound relationships and know how to correct words they mispronounce, children also need reading opportunities that are absolutely free from correction and judgement. If your child has a pet, you may want to encourage him or her to read books to Fido, Fluffy or the pet lizard.

Sharing books with pets that are about animals may be a fun place to start. “Tickle the Duck” by Ethan Long is a sturdy touch-and-feel book that is fun for toddlers, preschoolers and grown-ups alike. The duck does not want to be tickled, but his ticklish belly and feet are hard to resist. It’s a book with few words and much laughter.

“In My Backyard” by John DeVries and Werner Zimmermann is a story of a young boy who finds a frog. No one in his family understands his need to care for this new pet, except his dog Rover. Rover, of course, understands completely and makes room for the frog in his backyard dog house.

A gentle pet as your child’s reading buddy can build a child’s confidence and motivation to read. Dog therapy programs like the one in Ottawa give us one more example of why Roger Caras’ words ring true. “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

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