Thursday, September 22, 2011

R.E.A.D. with Ranger!

                                                              Ranger loves to read, do you??

Ranger and I are a registered therapy team through Delta Society, Mid-South Therapy Dogs & Friends, and Intermountain Therapy Animals. We've worked really hard to get to this point, and it's been an amazing journey! (The new puppy, Mykelti is training right now to be a therapy dog as well; wish us luck!!) It takes about a year+ of straight dedication and training to really prepare a dog for all  the testing they must pass (They start out with a 10 part Canine Good Citizen test that they must pass before they can move on to the 22 part Pet Partner Skills and Aptitude Test (PPSAT) that Delta Society offers...there were also a lot of workshops, classes, and wonderful handlers/trainers that really helped get us ready to become a successful team!)

Over the summer, Ranger and I also had the pleasure of participating in one of our favorite programs thus far, R.E.A.D. (This stands for "Reading Education Assistance Dogs). R.E.A.D. is a program that was founded by Intermountain Therapy Animals in St. Lake City, Utah. It started out as a pilot program at local schools/libraries, and has skyrocketed in popularity throughout the US and other countries since it's launch! It was founded to help at-risk children, children with learning disabilities, and children new to reading to learn to read. 

How could that work you might ask? After all, we adults know that dogs "can't  really read". Well, it works because it forms an environment of ease and allows children to realize that reading can be fun in a non- judgemental environment! Dogs do not judge people, laugh at errors, nor criticize them. They simply offer their unyielding comfort and devotion. When the children read to the dogs, it puts them at ease because they are not being judged in front of a classroom of their peers or by a harsh teacher. R.E.A.D. teams follow strict protocols to ensure safe and happy learning environments, and the wonderful therapy dogs really offer up a lot of comfort to new and struggling readers! I've found that it only takes the children a few short minutes to really start feeling comfortable with Ranger once they sit down and open up their book. During their reading, some of the kids like to pet Ranger when they feel stressed, some of them like to use him as a "pillow" to prop up against while reading, and some enjoy showing him pictures in the pages of their books; it's adorable! Ranger has been taught a "read" command to help him focus on the pages that the children are sharing with him. The kids get a kick out of seeing him "read" with them! Sometimes, Ranger enjoys listening to the stories so much that he will close his eyes and picture himself in those storybook scenarios...well, at least that's what we tell the younger children when Ranger sneaks a nap in; thankfully, that didn't happen often for us! (Each session is 2 hours long during the summer program; we had new children rotate in every 15-20 minutes. From what I understand of the year- round program, there will be the same children each session and we will be able to really chart their progress with their teachers and librarians each week!)

One of Ranger's favorite learning tricks is to help the children in our program "sound out" the tough words by using his paw to break up multi-syllable words. (I've found that it only takes one time of Ranger "sounding out" the words, and the children never forget that particular word, because Ranger makes it so fun to remember!) He also gives out lots of kisses as encouragement; I remember one instance when a little boy was getting frustrated that he kept struggling with the same word...Ranger seemed to sense that he was stressed out and so he put his paw on the little boys lap and gave him a big kiss on the face; that instantly calmed the little boy down and put him at ease again, this time he had a smile on his face knowing that Ranger was there to help him! (By the way, the little boy did learn that word after all! He realized that reading could be fun with a good listener like Ranger there to support him!)

When the children finish with their visit, Ranger gives out trading cards and stickers with his picture on it, and he can even "paw-to-graph" their book or hand! (We use an Australian Shepherd shaped rubber stamp or his paw and an ink pad...the kids love it!) We will be participating in a year-round program at the same facility in a few weeks! These children will be given a "Boomer Buddy" (stuffed dog) at the beginning of the year and they will sign a contract to read to their puppies every night; they can even bring it in during the week to read with Ranger and their stuffed animal...anything it takes to motivate them and make reading fun! We are really looking forward to that opportunity! I have to say, I have never worked around a group of more well behaved children either; all of the ones in the summer program were a delight to be around! (The school that we visit is designed specifically for children with Dyslexia; it is an incredible, positive place!)

  (Here are a few of the wonderful letters/notes that the children wrote to Ranger! 

(For those of you with little ones at home, I'd encourage you to start reading to them early and often; it does make a difference! If you have a patient furbaby at home, consider allowing your child (supervised) to read to their furry, slithery, or even finned friend! You never know how much it might help them!) 

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