EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 17, 2013

Bark for Books

Program promotes reading skills by pairing children up with dogs

On a snowy Saturday morning, a 7-year-old makes her way into the Memorial Hall Library, eager to listen to some stories.

Mira isn’t your typical library patron, however. For starters, she has four legs and is very interested in sniffing the books. Plus, when she likes what she hears, her short tail wags.

“Sometimes she looks at the pictures, but mostly she likes to listen,” says Mira’s handler Gian Schauer.

Mira, a cocker spaniel-poodle mix, will be doing lots of listening today. She is at the library for the Andover B.A.R.K.S. program, which stands for “Books and Reading for Kids.”

Mira is a trained therapy dog who will listen as elementary-aged kids practice reading aloud to her. Although it may sound crazy, programs like this are gaining traction across the country, as educators recognize the benefits children reap from reading to dogs.

“People think it’s silly to have a dog in the library,” Schauer said. “But it honestly brings the kids to another level. They experience the fun of reading, and learn how to tell a story and how to enjoy reading.”

“I am the alpha dog, and what I say goes,” 8-year-old Grace Jungmann reads to Mira.

Jungmann arrived at the library early to choose a book that would be suitable for a dog. She ended up with “Martha Speaks,” a popular book about a dog that eats alphabet soup in order to be able to talk.

However, if the research is correct, Jungmann will benefit from today’s reading session much more than Mira. A 2010 study conducted by Tufts University showed that second-graders who read aloud to dogs over summer vacation increased their reading skills, while their classmates who read aloud to people lost reading skills during the same period. Although it isn’t clear why reading aloud to dogs helps improve literacy, the results clearly show a benefit.

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