Spotlight on Sharing: Therapy Dogs Help Struggling Readers

Children who struggle with reading can find it stressful to read aloud in front of their peers or adults. The stress that they feel further inhibits the learning process, leading to a vicious cycle of low performance and anxiety. On the other hand, children who read to trained therapy dogs find that they make excellent reading companions because they are calm, patient, attentive, and always willing to listen without judgment.

This video from Therapy Dogs International shows the impact that reading to dogs has had on children.

Many public libraries, including several in Colorado, offer “read to a dog” services to help children feel more relaxed while they improve their reading skills. Here are some examples:

Read to a dog

  • Kremmling Library, Grand County Library District
  • Available every other Monday. See the calendar for the next date. 
  • “Did you know that dogs are the perfect reading companions? They create a relaxed, comfortable and safe environment for sharing books. Janifa Astmann and her trained therapy dog (black lab, Akai!) will be visiting the library every other Monday. All ages are welcome, and children do not have to be reading ready to visit. Please arrive to the library early to select a book, and have fun reading to your new four-legged friend!”

Jeffco PAWS for Reading

  • Several JeffCo branches feature this ongoing event.
  • “JCPL’s PAWS for Reading program is perfect for any young reader because reading out loud is great practice and our PAWS dogs are adorable and loving. Face it; it’s hard to argue with adorable and loving.”
  • Read an overview of the program
  • Register for 15 minute reading session

READ to dogs

  • Bud Werner Memorial Library
  • Mondays from 2:00 to 4:00 pm, June 13 through August 1
  • “Kids who are already reading on their own get a chance to practice reading out-loud to the friendliest, most non-judgmental audience there is — a trained therapy dog! Kids read by themselves for a 20-minute session with the dog and the dog’s owner. Kids should be able to read independently, but not necessarily fluently (usually ages 6 and older). Sign up in advance, this program fills quickly!”
  • Program Information

Dogs Enjoy Afternoon Reading (DEAR)

  • Longmont Public Library
  • Second Saturday of the month, from 1:00 to 2:00 pm
  • “Children of all ages are invited to read to specially trained dogs. Great program for young or tentative readers — dogs don’t judge or get frustrated! Drop-in program, no registration required. DEAR dogs are registered through Pet Partners, and guardians are with dogs at all times.”
  • Read more about the program

Paws to Read @ Rampart

  • Rampart Library District
  • “Bailey, a trained therapy dog, is at Woodland Park on Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30 pm for the Paws to Read program. Bailey loves to listen to children reading out loud and this helps boost a child’s confidence, eliminate nervousness and improve reading skills. You do have to preregister for Bailey by calling 687-9281 ext. 112 or emailing”

Paws to Read @ Bemis

  • Bemis Public Library
  • 2nd Saturday of every month, from 10:00 a.m. to noon
  • “The program is for children in grades 1-5 to practice reading to a furry friend. Reservations are required for a 20-minute spot. The program is presented by Denver Pet Partners and the Delta Society.”
  • Thank you to Julie Kingery for sharing this program!

Reading to Rover

  • Montrose Regional Library
  • Tuesdays from 3:30 – 4:30 pm
  • Ages 5-10
  • Read to a Morningstar therapy dog. Our dogs enjoy listening to kids read! To make an appointment call 970-249-9656 x2.
  • Studies have shown that participating children make gains in reading and communication skills while building confidence and self-esteem.
  • Mary Paladino shared this program. Thank you, Mary!

READogs with the City of Westminster

  • College Hill Library and Irving Street Library in Westminster
  • “The City of Westminster’s College Hill and Irving St. Libraries, offer 15 minute READog sessions several evenings and Saturdays each month for children ages 6-12. Our 9 teams of trained and certified dogs and their handlers are highly experienced in helping to boost the confidence of struggling, nervous, or beginner readers in a non judgmental and helpful way. Children may snuggle with a loving dog, while the handler sits nearby.”
  • Please visit our website: or for College Hill openings call 303-658-2606. For Irving St. openings call 303-658-2306.
  • Thank you to Fiona Hart for sharing this program using the Spotlight on Sharing feedback form – it’s a great way to let us know how your library is sharing. Thank you, Fiona!

Read To a Dog

  • Summit County Library
  • Ages: 4-11
  • Main Library in Frisco
    • Wednesdays from 11:30-12:30 during the Children’s Summer Reading program
    • Reservations not required
  • South Branch in Breckenridge
    • Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 12:00 to 1:00 pm during the Children’s Summer Reading program
    • Reservations recommended for 15 minute sessions by calling 970-453-3544
  • Thanks to Sarah Scheinman for sharing this program!

Bark for Books

  • Douglas County Libraries
  • Twice a month at most branches. See the events calendar for more info.
  • “Volunteers and their trained therapy dogs give budding and struggling readers an opportunity to read out loud without the stress of being judged.  Young readers register for 15 minute slots.”
  • Thank you, Laura Olson, for sharing information about this program!

Paws to Read @ High Plains

  • High Plains Library District: Carbon Valley Regional Library, Riverside Library and Cultural Center, and Centennial Park Library
  • Once per month
  • “This program gives our young readers, at any reading level, a chance to read out loud in a stress-free environment to some very attentive listeners. Therapy dogs will visit once a month and will be ready to hear some good stories. Therapy dogs sit quietly and calmly while children read aloud to them, allowing children to become more relaxed and confident about reading. Space is limited, so please register by coming in to either our Carbon Valley Regional Library, Riverside Library and Cultural Center, or Centennial Park Library locations or by calling 1-888-861-7323.”
  • Thank you, Stacie Speirs, for letting us know about this program!

PAL (Pups At your Library)

  • Cañon City Public Library
  • Wednesdays from 2:00 to 4:00 pm during the summer
  • Kendra McFall shared their successful program, which they have been running for the last 7 or 8 years:

“The Cañon City Public Library has been hosting a program “PAL” (pups at your library) for the last 7 or 8 years.  We have met and invited people and their therapy dogs come to the library on Wednesdays for a couple of hours.  We have visited our schools and encouraged children to “pick a time, pick a book, and pick a dog” to read to.

We host PAL during the Summer Reading Program, which at our library lasts 7 or 8 weeks.  We have a wonderful time with the dogs, handlers and children.  We love our Wednesday visitors.

Most days we pack  our library with noise, moving bodies and a lot of dog hair!   This year we have had three past readers become handlers with their therapy dogs, we like to call VIPs (very important pets).

I feel we have come full circle, the children loved the PAL program so much and benefitted from it, now they are giving back to the community as handlers with their therapy dogs.  This has brought so much joy to all of us here on staff we wanted to share with others that are just starting out.”

  • Thank you for sharing your experience and your program with the Colorado library community, Kendra!

ARF! Afternoon Reading Fun

  • Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library in Broomfield
  • Twice a month
  • “ARF! Afternoon Reading Fun is a bi-monthly program with two trained therapy dogs for kids from kindergarten through 5th grade. Children build confidence and fluency by reading aloud to the dogs. Bring your own book or choose a library book and our dog friends will listen without correcting or judging.”
  • Lesley Clayton shared this program – thank you, Leslie!

Dog Ears

  • Mesa County Libraries (3 of the 8 branches)
  • Wednesday afternoons
  • “The program has been going strong for 2 years we have met some extraordinary TDI dogs who are patient and attentive with young readers (no age requirement defined).  We usually have 2-3 dogs at at time and readers are scheduled one on one for 15 minutes.”
  • Thank you to Gail Yerbic for sharing this program and the cute pic of Iris the therapy dog with her buddy!
Iris the therapy dog
Meet Iris, who has been with us since the beginning.  Iris has also accompanied us for other programming and during outreach events.  The kids are truly drawn to her.

Read to a Dog

  • Fraser Valley Library (Grand County)
  • Sophie the therapy dog and her owner/handler Mikey Gallavan visit the Fraser Valley Library after school on Thursdays, and they also make visits during the summer.
Read to a Dog Fraser Valley Library
Sophie the therapy dog and Mickey Gallavan encourage reading at Fraser Valley Library.
Sophie the therapy dog
Sophie enjoys all kinds of books, including Madeline.
  • The Sky-Hi News recently wrote this article about Sophie and the Read to a Dog program.
  • This Therapy Dog Brochure gives more information about the program.
  • Many thanks to Jeanette McQuade for sharing information and materials about this fun program!

Does your library want to start a “read to a dog” program?

Laura McHenry, librarian at Cortez Public Library, outlined the steps that they are undertaking to start a program at their library. It involves multiple partners and a fair amount of legwork, but she says that through the process they have developed relationships with the City of Cortez and the local school district.

Here is a high-level overview of their process:

Cortez Public Library has an excellent volunteer dog trainer, who works with the dogs to determine how much training they will need. Dogs also must go through a certification process with Pet Partners, a nonprofit animal therapy organization that offers education and handler registration. Laura notes that Pet Partners has “endorsed our organization on their liability insurance and meets our insurance ceiling and aggregate insurance standards.”

Besides the rigorous dog training component, handlers must also complete the Raising Readers Intervention Program, the library’s mentoring program. After completing all the necessary paperwork, training, and safety components, volunteers can work one-on-one with children, either at the school or at the library. If at the school, volunteers work directly with the school district to determine scheduling.

In addition to the Raising Readers program, handlers also go through the R.E.A.D. training program, which trains therapy teams (i.e., dogs and handlers) to become literacy mentors for children.

Each part of this process requires volunteers to complete multiple steps, including forms, background checks, training classes, and more. It is a lot of work and coordination with multiple agencies to get a program like this off the ground, but to a child who is struggling to read, the effort is more than worth it.

This post is part of the Spotlight on Sharing initiative, which aims to increase the visibility of resource sharing in Colorado libraries. Does your library have a “read to a dog” program? Let us know by filling out this super short form. If you’re on Twitter, tweet @hitchlib or use the hashtag #spotlightonsharing.

Amy Hitchner
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