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Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Reading Therapy Dog isn't a Reading Dog
by Kitty Griffin

I love this picture of my Welsh Corgi (Cardigan Variety) dog, Coriander. She and I belong to Tail Waggin' Tutors because she's a good listener. A very good listener. Part of my daily life now involves climbing into my car with my dog and going to schools and libraries so children can read to her. I don't have to do anything except hold the leash. Oh, sometimes I help out with a word or two, if a child asks, but mainly I'm just there to hold the leash. And smile. I smile because I watch as kids try to hold a book with one hand and pet with the other as they read to not me, but to my dog. There's something remarkable that happens to a kid when a cold nose gently pushes on their leg to encourage them to get to the next word. They might stumble a bit at the beginning, but it doesn't take long and they pick up speed and pronunciation.
It's not complicated, but there is a process each dog and handler must go through. Coriander and I went through intense obedience training. We learned to understand what each of us wanted. Then she went through a comprehensive test, one where she was put in a room full of people who yelled at her, stepped right in front of her, and poked canes or crutches at her. She had to pass by a group of children running and playing and not bark or get excited. She had to obey every command she was given. And she had to sit quietly with a stranger when I left the room. 
Once the test was done, oh no, we weren't finished. She had to be certified by her veterinarian and I had to fill out papers and sign a check to pay for liability insurance.
Then we were ready.
We've been to a psychiatric facility, hospice, hospitals, schools, and libraries, and of all the work she does, she loves the kids the most and they just adore her, so that's what I choose to do. But it still makes me laugh when I tell people I have a reading therapy dog and they stare and say, "Your dog can read?"

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