The Central Coast Pet Sitter

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Can Dogs Help Kids learn to Read? April 12, 2011

Filed under: dog training,itails,Service dogs,Therapy Dogs — centralcoastpetsitter @ 11:32 am
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Therapy Dogs do so much more….

Reprint by Rebecca Delaney

A few days a week, Roo goes to the local elementary school, curls up in his spot at the back of the library and listens patiently as children read to him. “Go, Dog. Go!” by P.D. Eastman is his favorite, but he’s not picky — as long as he gets a treat afterward, he’s happy.

Roo is a reading education assistance dog (R.E.A.D). Along with his handler, Tina Anderson, Roo works as a literacy mentor in the Graytown Elementary School in Graytown, Ohio.

The 6-year-old short hair collie has been certified as a therapy dog for visits to nursing home residents and hospital patients. But today he works primarily as a reading assistance dog.

Roo the Reading Education Assistance Dog 

Tina Anderson
Roo, a reading education assistance dog, helps a pupil at Graytown Elementary School in Graytown, Ohio.

“I have always loved reading, and this just seemed like a good way to combine my love of reading and my love of animals,” Anderson told AOL News.

The Intermountain Therapy Animals organization started the R.E.A.D. program in 1999. The group trains therapy animals to visit and help hospital patients and nursing home residents. Research has shown that pets help lower blood pressure and anxiety.

“Someone had the idea that dogs have been successful in having a calming effect on adults. Why not use them with children who have reading and social disabilities?” said Lesley Pulsipher, national R.E.A.D. coordinator in Salt Lake City. “Animals are not judgmental, and children feel safe reading to them. In a classroom, a child’s classmates may laugh if they mess up.”

Teachers at Graytown Elementary pick those children who have trouble reading, have a learning disability — or are just shy and intimidated by reading in front of the class — to visit with Roo.

“That’s the great thing about this program,” said Anderson. “It’s not just for kids who have learning disabilities. It’s also for the child who’s a little shy. It really can be applied to every reader.”

After Roo lies down in his special spot in the library, the child picks out a book to read to him. Usually, Anderson said, the children either cuddle next to Roo or they sit in front of him and read to him as a teacher would read to a class. If a student is anxious, Anderson has the child pet the dog’s ear or scratch his back to help the student relax.

If the children comes across a word they don’t know, Anderson helps them sound it out, and at the end of the story, they talk about the book. Anderson then shows the student how to command Roo with one of the 30 signs he knows in American Sign Language. They may command him to shake or lie down, and then they give him a treat.

“It’s a special connection that makes them feel important,” said Anderson.

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Every reading assistance dog must first be certified as a therapy dog, which entails training and a screening process for both the dog and handler. According to Pulsipher, the program is not just limited to dogs — cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and miniature horses also visit schools and libraries for children to read to them.

At Graytown Elementary, Anderson says she sees Roo’s impact on the children.

“The program really helps brings kids out of their shell and gives them a boost of self-confidence,” she said.


Everybody needs a little love & support March 9, 2011

Filed under: itails,Pet Articles,Service dogs — centralcoastpetsitter @ 5:27 am
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By Winston Chung

Dog ownership seems to have had a calming effect on my life, so I’m not completely surprised when I hear about new ways that canines are helping people.

Scientists aren’t really sure if dog ownership is associated with decreased allergy risk or increased physical activity in youth, but there is little doubt that service dogs are making big differences in the lives of some autistic and diabetic children.

Specially trained service dogs are helping to calm some autistic children or keep them safe, and others are sensing and warning their diabetic owners about potentially dangerous episodes of low blood sugar.

While at work, I’ve seen volunteer teams from the San Francisco SPCA Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Program helping to ease the pain or brighten the day of some patients at the hospital.

The Puppy Dog Tales Reading program aims to promote literacy in at-risk populations by attempting to stimulate enthusiasm for reading. Teams are placed at schools or libraries and work with children during reading sessions, supporting efforts in a “non-judgmental way.”

Dr. Jennifer Emmert is the AAT Manager at the SF SPCA. She told me that the Puppy Dog Tales Reading program has teams at over 20 locations and that educators are describing results that include “increased enjoyment of reading, quicker improvement in cadence, increased motivation to try sounding out unfamiliar words, reduced anxiety” among others.

Canines are also helping to reduce anxiety in soldiers with PTSD. An article in the New York Times describes a 25 year-old Iraq war veteran who was able to cut his anxiety and sleep medication in half, weeks after getting a dog. The story also mentions that the government is spending money on research looking into how canines might help soldiers.

Based in San Anselmo, the Pine Street Foundation is a non-profit charity with the mission of helping people with cancer through education and research. Dr. Michael McCulloch is their research director and contributor to a growing body of literature on canines and cancer detection, including his study of dogs that detected lung cancer in the breath of cancer sufferers with 99 percent accuracy.

In an e-mail to me, Dr. McCulloch shared that they, in partnership with Touradj Solouki, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Maine, are currently enrolling women with ovarian cancer for a federally-funded study of canine scent detection. They are also seeking women with endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome as controls. Women who participate only need to provide a sample of exhaled breath and can enroll by visiting the clinical trial‘s or Pine Street Foundation‘s websites.

I have no misconceptions about my dog Bouncer having the potential to develop clinically useful skills. Heck, I’m happy when he goes long stretches without going pee-pee inside.

Bouncer showing how to enjoy the momentBouncer showing how to enjoy the moment 

But I do get the sense that Bouncer is a positive influence in our lives. Since we adopted him from Wonder Dog Rescue, Bouncer has been a reason to go on a walk and explore new city parks and dog-friendly spots in California. When I’m anxious, he can be soothing and sometimes remind me to not judge and be in the moment.

Posted By: Winston Chung MD (Email) | March 07 2011 at 11:30 AM