Reading to your child has many well known benefits, and offers some calm and restful time that the whole family can enjoy together. But add your four-legged friend into the mix and you’ve got magic. Involving your dog during storytime or encouraging your child to read to your dog can bring calm and focus to the experience. We’ve put together some helpful tips to enable you and your family to enjoy the benefits that reading to your dog can bring.  

Do dogs enjoy story time?

Dogs are social beings who enjoy our company and spending time with us. This can either be curling up next to us, using us as their pillow, or just listening from a corner of the room or in front of the fireplace.

Dogs are known as quiet listeners who don’t judge or correct mistakes. That is why there are programmes around the world where children, especially those with reading difficulties, are reading to dogs.  It’s also a great activity to help support a child who is feeling anxious, providing an opportunity for relaxation and a calming focus for 30 minutes with a loveable friend. For the families we work with, through our Family Dog service and our assistance dogs, reading can provide a good opportunity for bonding together and enjoying some quiet time.  Getting the benefits of reading to a dog doesn’t have to be restricted to a classroom activity or through a specialist programme though, there is no reason why it can’t work just as well in the home.

Let’s get comfy

How do you start reading with your dog? It’s important to make sure your dog is comfy and enjoys the experience so if your dog likes a bit of space or is always playful, you might need to introduce the idea of “calm time” to start with.  Begin reading in the room he likes to settle in (but somewhere else other than his “safe space” so that remains a child-free zone for him). If you’d like him to eventually be closer, place his bed/blanket at a distance he is comfortable with and then slowly decrease it.

Some dogs might need extra support and encouragement, so giving them something nice to chew on (such as a stuffed kong) might be a good idea. This is how they will link reading with ‘good stuff’ and if used regularly, when you take a book out they will jump on their bed ready for their treat.

Once they get comfortable, you can ask them to settle near you. They still might need treats every now and then. If your dog is not allowed on the sofa, you can put a nice comfy blanket on the floor for all of you to sit/lay on, but let your dog get into a position that he or she finds comfortable. This contributes to the feeling of connectedness as you are all spending calm time on the same level.

Tips to encourage great reading 

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You can even actively include the dog in the process of reading, e.g. with asking the dog to bring a book from the table to the sofa or helping with choosing a book by nudging one with their nose or paw; or encouraging them to have a look at the pictures. If your child is reading to your dog, you can use your dog as a way to encourage and support your child’s reading. You can say things like: “I don’t think Spot has heard that, can you repeat it for him?” if the child reads very quietly, or: “I’m not sure Poppy understood that, maybe you could read this line again?” if reading was not too clear or the child made a mistake. That way we are more indirect in trying to improve their reading and are not focusing on them making mistakes, so it is more likely they will keep on trying and not lose interest.  

Go virtual

If you don’t have a dog of your own, why not see if a friend or relative’s dog could get involved?  Our Community Dog team has been running virtual meet ups with dogs throughout the pandemic everything from dog walks to doggy bingo, and while it’s not quite the same as being able to touch and feel a dog, seeing a dog on the screen can still be really motivating.  Make sure you arrange a time in the day that will be when their dog is relaxed and happy to settle with their owner by the screen for a short while. You can still encourage your child to talk to the dog, asking if the dog can help choose which story to read or by suggesting your child can show the dog pictures from the book.  

Reading is just one of the ways that dogs can add value to your life and you can add value to theirs. So, which book are you going to read with your child and your dog next?