R is for reading to dogs

R is for reading to dogs

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It takes practice to become a reader. Reading to a specially trained dog is fun and confidence-building.

Beach Animals Reading with Kids (BARK) was founded in 2007 at Bryant Elementary School in Long Beach with four dogs and 20 students. Since then, the all-volunteer program has placed 170 teams to listen to kids in more than 100 schools and libraries in California.

Time spent reading to a dog gives children practice and confidence. The dog is fun, calming and nonjudgmental. This may be just the ticket for children intimidated reading in front of classmates. The dog also offers a way to work on comprehension issues without putting a child on the spot.  For example, a volunteer noticing a child struggling with a word might say, “Daisy doesn’t understand that word.  It means . . .”

According to a 2010 study by the University of California at Davis, children who read out loud to dogs improved their reading skills by 12 percent over a 10-week program compared to their fellow students in the same program who didn’t read to dogs.

Assessments done by BARK and participating schools show that 80 percent of the students improve their reading scores. Additionally, 90 percent of participating students participate in class more and 95 percent have more self-confidence.

How BARK started

Founder Josie Gavieres fostered guide dogs for the blind before launching BARK.  When one dog, Groucho, didn’t qualify as a guide dog, she adopted him. Together they became certified as a therapy dog team. She had heard of national organization that gave children the opportunity to read to dogs. Having always wanted to be a teacher, she decided to volunteer with Groucho at local schools. While not all schools she called were open to the idea, Bryant was. Within the year, she’d recruited 25 volunteers with certified therapy dogs.

BARK’s reading in the schools program runs eight weeks for each group of students selected by teachers to participate.  At the end of the time, participants are given gifts — a small stuffed dog, a new hardcover book at a suitable reading level and a bookmark that tells about the dog they worked with.

Each volunteer team is given a rolling suitcase with a selection of books at different reading levels.

In addition to reading programs at schools and libraries, BARK therapy dogs also go to hospitals, nursing homes, veterans centers and, during mid-terms and finals, to college campuses.

Becoming certified as a BARK therapy dog.

To become one of these certified teams, the dog must be at least 18-months old and its handler at least 18 years old. The pair have to have lived together for at least six months. Dogs must have stable friendly temperaments. The dog and its handler are evaluated and certified as a team, although one dog can be certified with more than one handler.

Dogs tested must wear a buckle or quick release flat collar.  Children can be concerned about training, choke, pinch, martingale, bridle-style halters or harnesses.

The first step to certification, as for many therapy dog posts, is getting an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certificate. This shows that a dog knows basic obedience, accepts petting and being in crowds, isn’t scared of walkers, crutches, wheelchairs or other types of equipment and is comfortable being around other dogs.

Other skills or testing may be required by hospitals or other locations where a therapy dog is allowed.

To schedule an evaluation test, contact barkeval@aol.com or call (562) 818-2594 or (562) 235-8835.

How you can help

In addition to volunteers with dogs, BARK is seeking volunteers to help raise funds, write grants, donate books, printing services and staff booths as pet expos and other events.  BARK also accepts donations of stickers, dog paw stamps and stamp pads, photo paper, printer ink, small rolling suitcases, blankets, picture books for grade levels one through five.

To offer your help, contact BARK at barkreadingdogs@aol.com or call (562) 235-8835.