Buttons is a good listener.
Flat on his back on the floor of the Pitt Meadows Library, the four-year-old Shih Tzu-Lhasa Apso cross was in doggie heaven, with his neck craned back, front paws perched up, and back legs spread open as 10-year-old Brody Chamberlain gently scratched his stomach.
All the while, Brody read a book, with encouragement from St. John Ambulance therapy dog coordinators John and Yvonne McDonald.
Brody and his seven-year-old sister Kaylee are participants in the pilot program “Reading Tails.”
The goal of the program, targeted at students in Grades 2 to 5, is to help children who are reluctant or slow readers to improve their reading skills.
Canines like Buttons are non-judgmental, making them the ideal audience for a young reader. They won’t criticize; they won’t make a whimper if a child trips over a word or stutters. The McDonalds are there to simply gently nudge the students forward with their reading.
“They [dogs] won’t correct them, so it builds their confidence,” said the siblings’ mom, Amy Shaw. “Dogs are just content to listen. They’re just happy to be there.”
Brody and Kaylee completed their fourth session at the library on Feb. 7 and already their mom has noticed a leap in both their confidence and reading levels.
“It’s a serious confidence booster,” she said. “Both of them come out of there proud that they were able to finish a couple of books. They feel like they’ve accomplished something.”
John McDonald said Buttons benefits just as much from the program as the children do.
“We know our dog really loves doing it,” he said. “He gets a joy out of it. Normally when we are approaching a building, he’s pulling us towards it.”
“Reading Tails” runs six weeks on Thursday or Friday from 3 to 4 p.m. Each child has a 20-minute session with a dog and its trainer.
The second session started Feb. 2 and runs until March 1, and goes on a two-week hiatus for spring break.
John said the responses he’s been receiving from the parents is “excellent.”
“And the kids are actually asking to come to the library,” he said. “It’s a proven fact that dogs, when they visit seniors residences and hospitals, it helps the blood flow and lowers blood pressure and it reduces stress.”
In order for the young students to get the most from the program, the local librarian approaches the student’s teacher to talk about what would be the best books to read, according to the reading level of the child.
The program is designed to accommodate four children per day for a total of eight students per six-week session.
Space is limited and by referral from teachers only. For more about the program, call 604-465-4113.