Downeast Dog News
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Woofs and Books

By Sara Sokol | Sep 01, 2019

I believe in the power of dog, the power of his love, his affection, and his ability to make me smile and feel happy. The four schools that host the Woofs and Books reading program also believe in the power of dog and the power that he has to help children feel better about themselves and their reading skills.

Every Thursday at 1pm four registered therapy dogs are spread out in the art room at Harpswell Community School ready to listen to children read to them. For the next hour, a total of twelve children, three per dog, spend twenty minutes each practicing their reading skills with the dogs. One of the goals of this program is for the children to build confidence in their reading aloud skills, and since the dogs are always listening and never judging, it works.

Darcy Baggett, the school’s social worker and Woofs and Books school coordinator, says that the program “has made reading ‘cool’ for students. Students who have disliked reading in the past are so excited about the presence of a dog that they are suddenly interested in reading a book. Because the dogs are popular, even the ‘popular’ kids with reading difficulties are not ashamed of their participation. Kids feel lucky to have the opportunity, so it is changing their attitudes about reading being acceptable.”

A greater enjoyment of reading is not the only benefit that the school is seeing however. Baggett reports, “there are clearly students who started the program in the fall, stumbling over words and uncomfortable with the reading process. Just the increase in reading aloud to a ‘safe’ audience has helped them with their reading fluency -- speed and accuracy combined”.

Another benefit, according to Baggett, is that the program is popular with the students. “I constantly have students stop me in the hall asking if they can read to a dog, too! Students who struggle with academics often feel excluded from academic events or special challenges. In this case, they are the lucky ones! (It's a special thing when more advanced students are jealous of lower performing readers),”says Baggett.

In addition, the program has started producing positive change in the children’s classroom work. One third-grade teacher has noticed that after one student’s Woofs and Books reading session, he was “The happiest I had ever seen him. Although usually a reluctant reader and writer, he came back feeling happy and self-confident and produced the most work of the week after his Woofs and Books session.”

Another foundation of this program is to build love, awareness, and respect for dogs and strengthen the animal/human bond, both between the handler and their dog as well as between the dog and their child readers.

That is the power of dog.

The Woofs and Books program is currently in Harpswell Community School, Williams Cone School in Topsham, Bowdoin Central School, and Bowdoinham Community School. All dogs in the program are registered therapy dogs. Please contact Sara Sokol at 207-798-1232 or info@mrdogtraining.com for more information about this program, to have your dog or your children become a part of the Woofs and Books program, or if you would like Woofs and Books to be a part of your organization.

 

Sara Sokol is the founder of the Woofs and Books program and owner of Mr. Dog Training in West Bath, a 2000 square foot positive-reinforcement training center voted BEST in Maine by Downeast Dog News Voters 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.