Children urged to read to dogs, perfect listeners
Struggling child readers are being encouraged to read to dogs to help build up their confidence.
Research suggests children, especially those who struggle, can be nervous and stressed when reading aloud in class.
The Bark and Read Programme, run by the Kennel Club, says overcoming fear and fostering a love of reading can be a first step to improving literacy.
Dogs can play a key role in this, it argues, as they are non-judgemental, attentive and perfect listeners.
Tony Nevett, who founded the programme, says: "This works really well with kids. The dog doesn't judge or criticise and so it helps to build self-esteem as well.
"The children sit down and stroke the dog and this lowers their blood pressure. They feel in a relaxed and comfortable state."
He adds: "We do this a lot with special needs pupils. They can sit there and spell out the words with them and the child knows the dog can't spell!"
He has taken his specially trained greyhound, Danny, to hundreds of schools around England and says he always sees positive results.
Fiona Firth, a dog expert at Burns pet food manufacturer - which is sponsoring the programme - says: "Dogs are particularly good at this sort of thing because they can pick up on emotions really, really easily.
"There have been studies showing that they can feel empathy. If someone is upset, even if they don't know them, they will often go up to that person.
"They are very good at reading facial expressions.
"Some dog owners will say that when the dog has gone out and done something they shouldn't, they can see in the dog's face that they know they have done something wrong.
"They don't really know they have done wrong, but they can read the expression on their owner's face showing they are angry.
"It's because they have lived with us for so long."
Lynda Morgan, principal of Mayfields School in Corby, Northamptonshire, for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, said having trained dogs in schools was particularly helpful for children who are reluctant readers or who have low self-esteem.
She said: "About 70% of the children at our school have difficulty with literacy. It can be speaking or reading. They go into the library with Danny and simply read to him. Their self-esteem has come on tremendously and their reading ages have come on too.
"There is a therapeutic effect too, which helps children get over any emotional trouble if something has gone wrong during the school day."
"Every school should have one," she said.