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In both health care and educational institutions, therapy dogs play a role in assisting speech, occupational, and physical therapists to supplement traditional hospital treatments. The dog seems to be a universal motivator for patients and students. Once a dog is involved in therapy, work suddenly becomes play for many people. This is especially true in work with children. Dogs are even helping kids learn to read in schools and public libraries that have adopted the innovative R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) Program, originally developed in Salt Lake City, Utah, by dog/handler teams from the Delta Society’s Pet Partners. The idea behind R.E.A.D. is that children who have problems in school, especially those having trouble learning to read well, often suffer from low self-esteem, have difficulty concentrating, and may be intimidated by the idea of reading in front of people. But these same children are often eager to read to a friendly dog that is willing to lie quietly beside them and “listen” as they read a story. This is also helpful to children for whom English is their second language, who may struggle to get by in a mainstream classroom. For children who have participated in these dog-centered literacy sessions, reading scores have improved significantly. Improvements have also been noted in self-confidence and self-esteem, attitudes toward school and learning, and overall school grades. Most trained therapy dogs adapt easily to the classroom setting—especially those that love lots of attention and petting, don’t mind a noisy room full of kids, and are happy to rest quietly next to a child for as long as needed. The big advantage for students is that dogs never complain or criticize when the kids make a mistake while reading. Instead, they just listen quietly. Dogs have also been enlisted as “co-therapists” by school counselors, who find that withdrawn children are often much more willing to talk in the presence of a friendly dog. Often, students will come to see the dog and stay to talk to the counselor while they pet and play with the animal. In this way, the counselor is able to interact with many more students than would otherwise be possible.

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