Dogs lend a (furry) ear to reading

Pets enrolled to help out with literacy strugglers

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Thousands of highly trained dogs are being primed for calls from schools looking for a sympathetic, albeit furry, ear for children with reading difficulties.

The Pets as Therapy charity has 4,500 dogs throughout the UK trained to go into residential homes, hospitals and hospices to provide comfort, companionship and therapy.

Now the organisation is preparing to launch Read2Dogs to schools nationwide - and it expects hundreds of schools to take up the offer.

The move follows the astonishing success of a year-long pilot scheme at Westfields Junior School in Yateley, Hampshire.

Polly the greyhound visited the junior school with her owner once a week last year to listen to children reading. Each child would read to the dog for about 15 minutes.

The school found all 20 pupils who took part in the scheme felt more confident about reading afterwards and while three children had read aloud to their parents four times a week before the trial, all of them did afterwards. They also found that 60 per cent of pupils made three months' progress in reading ability in just six weeks.

Inclusion manager Debbie Jones said: "We have one child, for example, who is a selective mute, but he is sitting down and reading to the dog, which is really great. The children love it and it does improve their willingness to read out loud."

The scheme is primarily aimed at children who may need extra reading practice, but Mrs Jones said that a cross-section of children had taken part in the pilot, some with an identified special need such as dyslexia or autism, but also a couple of gifted and talented children.

She said: "We didn't want Read2Dogs to be associated with children who can't read or anything negative, so all sorts of different children had a go."

This year Polly has been replaced by Breeze, a golden retriever.

Ellen Parker, nine, said that reading to Breeze at school had inspired her to read stories to her own dog, Roxy, at home.

She said: "I try to think about stories that Breeze might like, interesting ones. I'm reading her a story about a rabbit and a badger who go on a picnic. I think she likes that because it's about animals.

"I can tell she's listening because she wants to have a little stroke when you're reading; she doesn't wander around, she sits down."

Beth Richards, nine, said: "My parents were surprised to hear about it. But the other children are really annoyed because they want to have a go, too.

"It is better than reading to a teacher because the dog doesn't judge you if you get it wrong."

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