Our dogs, Lily and Larry, are excellent listeners.

Shy kids who are reluctant readers frequently benefit from working with a specialized tutor. Surprisingly, the best tutor for a shy child often has four legs.

Across the United States, innovative programs that go by names such as Paws for Reading, Tail Waggin’ Tutors, Puppy Dog Tales, and Reading with Rover are growing in popularity. All of these programs focus on having the children read to trained therapy dogs that serve as supportive, non-judgmental listeners.

Such programs clearly help shy kids feel more comfortable, but the benefits go beyond the emotional. As one school principal noted, the “children flourished, with reading scores going up.” A study by the University of California-Davis veterinary school found gains in reading fluency between 12 and 30 percent in one program. Parents report that children come home and want to read to their own dogs. Children participating in these programs are reading more, while getting more comfortable with their reading skills, and with hearing the sound of their own voices. Dogs have also been shown to help kids with learning disabilities and other special needs.

Carl Rogers identified warmth, genuineness, and empathy as factors facilitating positive change. If Dr. Rogers were around today, I suspect he would nod knowingly while watching the all-accepting pups. As for me, I believe that these dogs prove the old adage that the best therapist is one who has spent plenty of time on the couch.

Follow Barb and Greg Markway on Facebook. To see photos of Paws for Reading in action in St. Louis, click here.

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