Meet the dogs helping children learn to read

Meet the dogs helping children learn to read
Just one more page, then I’ll go to bed (Picture: Battersea Rehoming Centre)
Today’s World Book Day looks very different from usual, with kids missing out on the classroom fun and dressing up with friends.

Even the therapy dogs who’d normally come into schools to help children to focus and read can’t do their thing right now.

Since leaving the much-loved charity, many Battersea rescue dogs have spent time visiting children around the country as therapy dogs, often acting as a quiet companion to be read aloud to. Claire O’Hagan, Rehoming and Welfare Manager at Battersea, says, ‘At Battersea, our staff and volunteers will often take time to sit and read with dogs in kennels. It not only provides companionship and enrichment for the dog but can be really therapeutic for the person.

‘Every single rescue dog is amazing in their own way, and we are always so pleased to hear of those that go on to do great things once they leave Battersea, such as becoming qualified therapy dogs in schools, hospitals, care homes and many other places.’

As lockdown restrictions are currently preventing them from doing the job they love this World Book Day, Battersea has three star therapy dogs they wanted to shine their spotlight on.

Meet the three pups who’ve dedicated themselves to helping others read, and what they’re up to this World Book Day.

Growing up. While the Chow Chow dogs are well known for their distinctive blue-black tongues, they’re actually born with pink tongues. They turn blue-black at 8-10 weeks of age.

Diamond, 4

Meet the dogs helping children learn to read
Sweet Diamond helps children feel relaxed while reading (Picture: Battersea Rehoming Centre)
Gorgeous Greyhound, Diamond, was rehomed from Battersea in 2018 by Zoey Lee, a veterinary receptionist from Hampshire. As soon as Diamond had settled into her new home, it was clear she had more to offer than simply being a beloved member of the family. Zoey says, ‘A young relative of mine had really been struggling with his reading. Diamond is great with children and enjoys anything where she can have a lie-down, so we found that he really enjoyed reading to her and she enjoyed the experience, too.
‘I’d always wanted to explore the Pets As Therapy route so, after completing our training and becoming qualified, myself and Diamond began visiting a local library as part of the Read2Dogs scheme.

‘Diamond will lie down while the children take it in turns to read to her. If they’re nervous it’s like she knows, and she’ll rest a paw or her head on their leg. One boy had never read more than a few words out loud, but in his first session with Diamond he read a whole page.

‘I think it takes the pressure off; she’s not going to judge them or mind if they get words muddled up.’

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Nearly 80 million U.S. households have a pet, and 42 percent of those households have more than one, according to a 2015-2016 survey by the APPA. There are 77.8 million pet dogs in the U.S. and 85.8 million pet cats.

Coco, 6

Meet the dogs helping children learn to read
She even has her own story called ‘Where’s Coco?’ (Picture: Battersea Rehoming Centre)
Adorable Pug, Coco, lives with Mary, a deputy headteacher from West London. Mary says, ‘Our secondary school is for students with complex learning and physical disabilities. We decided we would like a therapy dog to join our staff team, so we contacted Battersea. ‘In May 2019, they rang to say they had the perfect dog – Coco had lots of surgery at Battersea, but her extremely gentle and kind nature would be an ideal match for us.’

And an ideal match it was. After completing her training, Coco was accredited to join the school as a therapy dog.

Meet the dogs helping children learn to read
Everybody at the school loves Coco (Picture: Battersea Rehoming Centre)

Mary says, ‘Coco is very popular with all the students. Some practise their walking with her and Coco is a great motivator. She joins in communication and speech and language sessions, and takes part in sensory story sessions – multi-sensory stories designed for visually impaired children or those with learning disabilities, containing music, tactile elements and even smells.

‘During lockdown, Coco’s missed being around all her friends. We’ve still had children of key workers and vulnerable children coming into school, but Coco has proved very popular in our home learning videos and has even featured in her own story “Where’s Coco?”.’

Use a Front Clip Harness to Prevent Pulling on Leash. If your dog pulls on his leash get a harness that clips in the front. The harnesses that clip on the back promote more pulling. And when you’re working on leash manners ditch the retractable leash for a regular 6 foot one so your dog can get the feeling of what loose leash walking means.

Harley, 8

Meet the dogs helping children learn to read
Somebody likes a chick lit summer read (Picture: Battersea Rehoming Centre)
Charming Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Harley, was rehomed in 2014 by Lorraine Pickering, a Pets As Therapy volunteer from Berkshire. Lorraine says, ‘I had just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I wasn’t walking very well, so wanted to rehome a dog to give me a reason to get out walking. ‘I had a gut instinct to visit Battersea and, as soon as I saw Harley curled up in her bed, she looked up at me with her big eyes and I knew we were meant to be.’

For Lorraine, taking Harley into hospitals to help children and adults was a natural step.

Meet the dogs helping children learn to read
Harley wears her jacket out and about (Picture: Battersea Rehoming Centre)

‘I couldn’t work anymore,’ she explains, ‘so I felt it would be a way to give back. On the children’s ward, Harley often sits on the bed as patients do their schoolwork or snuggles up while they read to her.

‘A lot of children in hospital for a long period of time will be really missing their own pets. I think Harley helps them to be calm and to concentrate, it reduces their anxiety, and she can often be found snoring next to them while they work or read.

Make a Re-Stuffable Dog Toy. Does your dog go bonkers with stuffed toys? If your dog likes to rip stuffed animals apart you can make a re-stuffable dog toy.

‘It’s been heart-breaking not being able to carry out our regular visits during lockdown, but Harley has still been wearing her therapy dog jacket on walks. People will often stop to pet her or crouch down to have a chat. If she can make someone smile, job done.’

To find out more about why rescue animals make the best pets, visit Battersea’s website or join the rescue movement by using the hashtag #RescueIsMyFavouriteBreed.

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