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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Therapy Dogs Encourage Kids to Bone Up on Reading

It’s a therapy dog’s job to provide comfort and affection. But now, they’re even able to promote literacy.


Eight-year-old Larry Sheran loves books, but reading aloud doesn’t come easily for him. And it’s the same for a handful of Los Cerritos Elementary schoolers.

“Everybody in my class is noisy and they won’t pay attention because some of them play around. And Guinness just stays calm and listens,” Sheran said.

But through a program called Beach Animals Reading for Kids [BARK], dogs like Guinness encourage these students to continue, even if they stumble. Volunteer Linda Attardo and her golden retriever Guinness have been helping kids read for a year.

“The big thing with BARK is to create a safe environment for a child to be relaxed reading,” Attardo said.

Read out loud, and the BARK therapy dogs listen. This helps children improve reading skills and increase confidence.

“Kids just love the fact that the dog is paying attention to them and sitting with them and they get to pet the dog and just really feel that it’s a one-on-one time,” BARK volunteer Debbie Grey said.

Josie Gavieres started the BARK program in 2007 with just a couple of therapy dogs in one school. Now, there are more than 100 teams of handlers and dogs in more than 50 schools and libraries.

“It kind of creates a reading revolution so to speak and it promotes literacy,” Attardo said. “It’s our dogs that create this non-judgmental soft spirit, almost kind of a connection with the child.”

As that connection helps children bone up on reading, the therapy dogs also become well behaved themselves.

“It calms the therapy dog and it lets them be able to do other community service activities because the dogs are relaxed and mellow,” Grey said.

Better dogs, better readers, and better friends.

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