Over the years, I have researched and blogged extensively about therapy dogs. Assisting our veterans suffering from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], therapy dogs over the course of the last decade have been professionally trained and have comforted hundreds of thousands of soldiers returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their contribution to mankind is significant, but so is the work of their canine brethren.
That's right, therapy dog duties are not only focused on the military. There are a good number of working dogs who have been trained to attend to other types of medical and mental assistance, including guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility dogs, seizure alert/response dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and autism dogs.
Therapy dogs are also trained to provide affection and a sense of comfort to individuals in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, hospices, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas. Research suggests that interactions with therapy dogs can increase oxytocin levels (responsible for bonding) and dopamine (responsible for happiness), while lowering levels of cortisol (that results from the pernicious affects of stress).
Tail Wagging Tutors
Add to that extensive resume of job duties, dogs are now being enlisted as tutors for the very young. Therapy Dogs International recently launched their ‘Tail Wagging’ Tutor’ program that enlists dogs as tutors to help children learn to read. But how can that be, you might ask, when canines can't talk, let along read?
Well, research has shown that a reading program of this type actually works quite effectively. It’s reverse psychology methodology demonstrates how children reading to dogs can accelerate their own learning curves. When reading to a non-judgmental furry listener, the child feels in control. Their audience is not going to laugh at them or constantly correct them for making mistakes or fumbling over a word — but instead, provide them with love and companionship.
In so doing, the children quickly learn to associate reading to dogs as a peaceful and enjoyable experience. Over time, the child’s reading ability and confidence will improve measurably, because they are practicing their skills, which reinforces their desire to read more and more, over time.
Libraries have demonstrated a sizable amount of success by utilizing the 'Tail Waggin’ Tutors' program as part of their Summer Reading and After-school Program. While the program was initially developed for struggling readers, even those who can already read well don’t want to pass up the chance to read to a Therapy Dog. Even the parents seem to get a real kick out of their child reading to a dog, and they certainly welcome the idea of their son or daughter being so excited to go to the library on a Saturday, where many of these programs are held! It's a win-win-win situation for all parties!