The Tiger's Bookshelf: Children Reading Aloud to Dogs —and Children

My father had a team of huskies when I was small. They were working dogs, trained to pull freight on a sled, and it was conventional wisdom that to make pets of these animals would spoil them as sled dogs. As a child who saw little distinction between animals and people, I was initially delighted to have eight new dogs in the family and then horrified that I couldn’t make friends with them.

It was a safety issue as well as a pragmatic one. Children in rural Alaska were frequently savaged when they came too close to  chained huskies,  and I was forbidden to go anywhere near the doghouses that our dog team was chained to. My father would give them food and water twice a day, but during the summer, when there was no snow for sledding, the dogs ate, slept, and watched our household from the shelter of their own cramped little houses.

Their summer lives were boring beyond extreme, I decided, and so I would go, book in hand, sit on an empty doghouse that was a safe distance away, and I would read to them. I was careful to choose books that would interest them, like  Call of the Wild or White Fang, and thye would come out of their houses and sit, watching me, heads cocked to one side, clearly interested. Sometimes they would make little noises when I finished our storytime, that would persuade me to stay for another chapter.

I thought of that when I found out about R.E.A.D., an organization that pairs children with therapy dogs, providing the children with an audience that is receptive and nonjudgemental, while improving their own reading skills and confidence. This is an especially effective way of working with children who are emotionally disturbed, since friendly dogs exert a calming and nurturing influence that may not be found in the child’s daily life.

This is a splendid program,  and one that could well be expanded. Why not children reading aloud to  children? All over the world? Let’s give this a little thought and talk about it again next week…


12 Responses to “The Tiger's Bookshelf: Children Reading Aloud to Dogs —and Children”

  1. Sally Says:

    Cool! What a great story, Janet.

  2. Aline Says:

    The scene you describe reminds me of Fern reading to Wilbur, in Charlotte’s Web…

    Great to know about R.E.A.D’s lovely program and to imagine little Janet reading to her dogs. My seven-year-old loves to read to her stuffed animals, so I’m sure she would read to a real pet, too, if only she had one. And the idea of kids reading to kids is fantastic. I’ve had a small experience with that recently, while reading to my daughter’s classroom. A young boy, who normally has trouble focusing, asked me if he could read to the class, instead, and wow!… did he capture their attention! Then they were all lining up to see who would do it next!

  3. Renee Ting Says:

    What a timely post! I just volunteered this weekend at a writing workshop for kids at 826LA called “Writing for Pets.” I brought my cat, Kevin, and other volunteers brought some dogs. The kids wrote stories for the animals, and then read them. It was so fun, and the kids really got into the idea of “audience” and “tone,” in choosing what to write. They also seemed more excited about writing the stories than usual, I thought. I made a short video of the workshop that I posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qC8MoFpOHCI

  4. Swati Says:

    I imagine a little child reading solemnly to huskies, who listen, with an equally serious air, and can’t help but smile…

  5. Marjorie Says:

    What a beautiful image this conjures up – like Swati, I can’t help but smile! I’m very impressed with the careful choices too…

    I’m also reminded of once when I was little and was very cross that my brother had been invited to a birthday party whereas I had to go out for a walk with my parents – I ended up telling stories to a gathering herd of cows. Having to concentrate hard not to frighten them away got me out of my bad mood and then I became totally entranced by the obvious enjoyment of my audience!

    I think an organisation for children reading to animals is a wonderful idea – and I loved Renee’s video. Those kids will have gone home with a real sense of achievement!

    Sometimes my two do read together – usually it’s Older Brother reading to Little Brother – and there is something special about the harmony that engenders…

  6. Aline Says:

    So great to see the video of Renee and Kevin’s volunteering at 826 LA (see the link on Renee’s comment, above). I’ve checked 826′s calendar for San Francisco, but there are no “pet stories” workshops scheduled, unfortunately–I might just have to write them with a special request : )

  7. Hives Remedy Guru Says:

    Love your theme of children reading to dogs especially with your early beginnings! We live in the mountains where we have sled dogs teams as well. Their summer months are spent exactly as you described. As a child some of my best memories were spent curled up and reading adventre story and I bet your story will melt many a heart:-)

  8. janet brown Says:

    Wow! What a fantastic conversation is going on here! Which mountains do you live in, HMG? And Renee, writing for pets is a splendid idea–wonder if it would work in a kid’s workshop in Bangkok? I love the kids reading to kids aspect being picked up because that’s where this conversation is going! The image of your oldest reading to his little brother is going to be in my mind as I write my next post, Marjorie.
    And yes, it was like Fern reading to Wilbur–but because of where I grew up, I didn’t read Charlotte’s Web until I was 16.

  9. Corinne Robson Says:

    Janet – I came across this article today as I was looking for events to add to our March calendar. I was hoping I could find a reading program for kids that involved dogs too! I love the title of this article – Sometimes Friendly Ears are Furry Ones:
    Trained Dogs Bolster Confidence by Serving as Uncritical Reading Buddies, Groups Find.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/11/AR2007021101367.html

  10. Janet Says:

    Ears don’t get much friendlier than Riley’s as he is pictured on your post sprawled across Emma’s lap and serving as her book rest! That picture always makes me feel happy–thank you!

  11. Virginia Franco Says:

    Am writing an entry in my education blog about the READ program, and stumbled upon yours. Great story — and lends itself to the idea that while reading to a trained dog is probably more effective than reading to your own pet at home, as your experience in Alaska shows — it can’t hurt!!