Summer 2010 Magazine

The Library Has Gone to the Dogs

By Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.

Not just any dogs, mind you. Therapy dogs that are trained and certified by Delta Pet Partners, Therapy Dog International, R.E.A.D., or another organization. These dogs come to listen to children read to them.

Why dogs? Well, children that are shy about reading aloud, worried they will mispronounce the words, or just do not enjoy reading that much will read to a dog. Children know the dog will not laugh at them, make fun of them, or tell their secrets.

The dogs are not there alone, of course. Their people are there, too. The dogs come for varied amounts of time during each visit. Some handlers choose to have several children take turns reading in a circle around the dog. Others choose to have children come one at a time. In any case, children read for 15-20 minutes a visit. Some visits are once a week and some are less frequently.

How are the children chosen to read to the dog? In public libraries, they often sign up for a time slot to do so. Some handlers come every week at the same time so children come if they wish to. In school libraries, the children that come are often children struggling with reading. They would be in reading enrichment during that time with a teacher if the dog were not available.

Dogs that participate in these programs must be calm, attentive, enjoy children, and tolerate the often chaotic environment in a library full of children. These dogs must ignore toys, crayons, food, and other items in the environment and attend to the children. Solid obedience skills, especially the down stay, are also necessary.

How do you find a program? Programs come and go as the dog and/or handler becomes unable to continue, so it is hard to find a comprehensive list of them. The best way to find one is to call your local library. Even if it does not have a program, chances are the librarian will know where you can find one.

Stephanie Suesan Smith is a freelance writer and photographer. More of her writing can be found on her website, and her blog,

Further information: Libraries throughout New Mexico have programs similar to the one discussed in the article. In Albuquerque registered dogs are provided by Delta Society Pet Program, Southwest Canine Corps of Volunteers, and Therapy Dogs, Inc. Check with your local library for times and locations.

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