I originally wrote this post a few years ago for (the now defunct) magazine, ReadyMade. I’m reposting here to honor Cody, who valiantly worked to help NYC children learn to read up until he passed away in his sleep earlier this month at the age of 17. Cody, you’ll be missed!
Cody is 15 years old and can’t read. But that’s because he’s a dog.
Once a month, Mary McGlynn, a former school teacher, brings Cody, her Portuguese sheepdog, to the Yorkville branch of The New York Public Library so that children can read to him. Mary occasionally helps a child sound out a word. Sometimes Cody looks at the book, and sometimes he puts his head in Mary’s lap.
As Gracie, a ponytailed 8-year-old, sat on her knees and read aloud to Cody, children in rumpled school uniforms peeked around the corner eagerly awaiting their turn. “Reading by myself isn’t that fun,” one little boy whispered to me as he stood in line. “But reading to a dog is very fun.”
Similarly, volunteering is more fun when you have your dog in tow. Perhaps that’s why libraries and schools throughout the country are welcoming dog/human teams who are donating their time to help kids learn to enjoy reading. “Children can get nervous about being judged when they stumble on a word,” Mary said, “but Cody isn’t judging”
In a 2009 study of more than a hundred children who read to dogs as part of the Chicago public schools’ Sit Stay Read program, oral reading fluency scores of the children who read to dogs improved by as much as 14 words per minute more than the scores of the non-dog control group.
The dogs’ reading skills did not fare so well—that phrase “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” really offended them. But they seem to have a good time nevertheless. “He doesn’t interrupt me,” Gracie explained to me, after reading to him from Edwina the Dinosaur. “I can read better than a dog, so it makes me feel feel extra confident.” When Gracie closed the book, Cody licked her hand. “I think that means he liked it!” she said.
How to read with your dog
If you are a reader and a dog lover, there are several ways you can combine your interests.
Bring your dog to a school or library near you.
Sit Stay Read in Chicago is accepting applications for dog-human teams, as is Reading with Rover, a similar program in Washington state. Therapy Dogs International pairs children with dogs and their handlers through their Tail Waggin’ Tutors program, and Intermountain Therapy Animals sells DVDs to help dog owners learn more about setting up their own read-to-dog programs. The first step will be to get your dog licensed as a therapy dog through an organization such as The Delta Society, TherapyDogs.com or Therapy Dogs International.
Read to your dog.
There are actually several books out there that are supposedly designed specifically for your dog’s amusement. For the sake of this blog post, I purchased Three Stories You Can Read To Your Dog. The first tale is about someone who comes to the door. It is told in second-person singular, like Bright Lights Big City for the canine set. “You” bark, because “you” think it is a burglar. When your human opens the door, there is no one there. “What a big , scary dog I am!” You say to yourself. Then you go to take a nap. My dog Amos wasn’t too interested. Perhaps he’d prefer See Spot Smell, a scratch and sniff tome meant to be read, and sniffed, by dogs.
Teach your dog to read.
Oh yes, it can be done. Here’s how.