Therapy Dogs to Help Children Read Aloud Gaining Popularity

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A therapy dog listens while a child reads a book in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture.

Programs to have children read aloud to therapy dogs are gradually becoming more well-known, and are modeled after practices in North America and Europe. As trained reading therapy dogs are calm and snuggly, children can feel at ease when reading books to them.

One day in December, second grader Mitsuki Awatani, 7, read the picture book “Maya the Bee” to a 7-year-old male Shiba Inu dog sitting next to her. The two were in one of the rooms at a multi-purpose facility that houses the Otaka-no-mori Children’s Library in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture. The dog silently listened to her while sitting down. “I was happy he listened quietly,” Awatani said. “He was very fluffy and felt nice when I touched him.”

The library has been carrying out the event since 2019 with the cooperation of the Japanese Animal Hospital Association. Children are paired up with a therapy dog and read to them. The children also learn how to treat the dogs. Five elementary school students who attended the December event each read a book that they liked to their four-legged friend.

Therapy dogs participating in the event are trained by their owners, who are volunteers, and have undergone aptitude and health checks. “The presence of the dogs seem to motivate the children in many ways,” said Haruna Matsui, the director of the library. “We would like to continue this program to serve as an opportunity for children to learn to love animals and books.”

According to the association, reading therapy dog activities are spreading in countries including the United States, Canada, France and Finland. Since dogs cannot compliment or evaluate a child’s reading ability, children tend to feel more at ease when reading aloud to them. Those who have difficulty reading are not teased or cautioned, and this can lead to an increase of their sense of self-esteem and communication skills. It is also believed to help children with stuttering and developmental disorders.

In recent years, the practice has been carried out in various parts of Japan and started to attract attention.

Naoko Yoshida, a veterinarian and a director of the association, said that interacting with trained dogs can help children develop a desire to learn and get a handle on their emotions. “We want to further promote this program at schools and libraries,” she added.