Libraries borrow dogs to help kids read

12_6_14 BARK at Edgeworth Library 01_resized2

Finding a dog hanging out with regular readers isn’t what you’d usually expect to find at your local library, but the bookworms at Lake Macquarie City Council are more than ready to be hounded if it helps local schoolchildren improve vital reading confidence.

Dogs, it transpires, are very good listeners, so much so that the council has whistled out for extra volunteers and their canine companions to come and sit down with a child and a good book.

In 2008 Lake Macquarie’s City Library initiated an innovative program dubbed Building Reading Confidence for Kids (or BaRK) which aimed to boost the proficiency and confidence for children that experienced reading difficulties, especially reading aloud.

It was soon a success, not least because for children a big part of getting over reading difficulties can be overcoming the embarrassment and self-consciousness that can come with reading in groups or to other people.

“The dogs provide unconditional acceptance and attention which allows the child to read without fear of criticism or judgement,” says Library Section Manager, Joanne Smith, adding a dog’s trainer sits nearby to assist if required.

Under Lake Mac’s eight-week BaRK program, kids have sessions of 15 minutes at a time after school hours.

Lake Macquarie was also the first public library in Australia to trial reading assistance using therapy dogs and sold itself a pup in the process. The program has just kept on growing to the point where the council library is looking for more canines to cater for demand.

Of course not every dog is suitable and much of the success of the program has been enabled by the use of Delta Society-trained therapy dogs that are carefully screened for their suitability.

The Delta Society is a national not-for-profit organisation that specialises in using positive human-animal bonding as a form of therapy in a range of environments that range from nursing homes to prisons.

Ms Smith said that more people were becoming aware of the program’s positive outcomes, particularly improvements in children’s skills, motivation, comprehension and enjoyment of reading.

“Now we need more trained therapy dogs to keep up with the demand,” Ms Smith said.

“We’re calling on pet owners and their dogs to partner with Lake Macquarie City Library to become BaRK therapy dogs.”

Ms Smith said dogs hoping to hang out with kids first need to undergo an assessment and training through The Delta Society before starting the program, adding that BaRK dogs spanned range of breeds and shared “similar relaxed, easy-going characteristics.”

And as anyone fond of dogs will attest, the average woofer isn’t exactly going to knock back a solid block of attention and good pat or scratch.

“The children who read to the dogs are not the only ones who benefit from the program,” Ms Smith said. “The dogs love the attention and the owners get satisfaction out of helping the children.”

Just don’t read them books about balls, sticks, walks or cats.

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