June 18, 2018

Therapy Dogs’ Presence Steadily Grows in Libraries

Uconn Therapy dog

Therapy dog visits UConn Library during fInals week

When it comes to learning, libraries around the country are steadily discovering that a dog can teach patrons, young and old, a few tricks.

The Oshkosh Public Library in Wisconsin is offering a “Read to a Dog” program to improve children’s literacy skills. It is is open to children of all ages and takes place in 20 minute blocks.

Sandy Joseph, Oshkosh Public Library children’s librarian told LJ, “It is unbelievably motivating. I am amazed at how well they read after five or six times. That’s what the research is saying: five to six consecutive visits will raise them two reading levels.“

She was quoted in The Northwestern as saying, “Children who are nervous and self-conscious about reading aloud often feel very comfortable reading to a dog. The dog isn’t judgmental or intimidating, so it boosts the child’s confidence, they forget about their limitations and their reading skills improve.”

The research bears her out: a studyat Tufts University found that students who read to dogs have better outcomes than students who read to humans. They experienced a slight gain in reading ability and attitudes toward reading, while those who read to people experienced a decrease on both measures. Even more noticeable, there was no attrition in the dog group, while one third of those reading to humans failed to complete the program.

girl reading to dog

Jayne Lunsford reads to a dog at the Oshkosh Public Library

This is far from the first time that dogs and libraries have made unlikely, but effective, partners. College libraries such as the University of Connecticut, M.I.T.Yale Law School  and the University of San Diego have brought in therapy dogs during finals to reduce the stress of studying.

Uconn’s program is particularly large. “ I think it is probably unique in its size and perhaps length,“ Library Reserve Services Coordinator Jo Ann Reynolds told LJ. The program, which has been running since Spring 2010, runs for a full week during finals in both spring and fall semesters, and includes 20-25 dogs making 30-35 visits each.

“We have almost continuous coverage with dogs from 10 in the morning until 8 at night,” Reynolds said. “Everybody comes up and says you don’t know what this means to me, thank you for doing this.”

In Oshkosh, the dogs are trained through the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program. There is no cost libraries to participate (or to schools, which also host the animal and handler pairs). The R.E.A.D. program was founded by Intermountain Therapy Animals in 1999. Today it has almost 2,000 registered teams, covering the U.S., three Canadian provinces, Europe and elsewhere.

For those with safety concerns, to be registered, dog owners must join an animal assisted therapy group, which provides insurance as well as some training. They must also read the manual, watch a three part video and complete an application and written test. Dogs use a dander remover to reduce allergic reactions, though the program remains unsuitable for children with severe allergies or asthma.

Oshkosh embarked on the program because a local volunteer, Marcie Wilson, learned of R.E.A.D. in Minnesota. Wilson checks on the licensing and coordinates much of the program. Joseph says the program serves children aged three to nine or ten, and the dogs serve the additional function of face saving. “They do have trouble reading but they can use the excuse that they love dogs. It lacks the stigma, ” she explains.

The UConn library spends about $200 per year to run the program, which goes for clean up supplies and thank you goodie bags for the visiting dogs and their volunteer handlers. Reynolds, like Joseph, said the library has had no trouble with allergic reactions so far, and emphasized the importance of the dogs being certified.


Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Karl Helicher says:

    Very interesting and upbeat article. Jake the “reading dog” has been a popular visitor to the Upper Merion Township Library for several years. The kids enjoy reading to this sedentary beagle. I expect Jake is also better for the experience. Perhaps, loaning dogs rather than Kindles and Nooks would encourage more reading and fewer dog-eared pages.Easier to curl up with a book and a dog than an e-book reader.

    An article in a recent Washington Post described how dogs are borrowed from a local shelter and made available to nervous third year law students at George Mason U. (I think) who are studying for their exams.

  2. Elizabeth Shannon says:

    Excellent article. My dog is a R.E.A.D. dog so I have seen the wonders of children reading to dogs.

    • Felisa Parker says:

      How do you and your pet become a part of this program? I am a librarian in NC and I am retiring this year. I have a great dog with people and a new golden retriever pup who I would love to train for this type of program. would love to hear from you.
      Felisa Parker/ fhparker@wcpss.net

  3. At the East Meadow Public Library we run a Read to the Dogs program called Tail Waggin’ Tutors through Therapy Dogs International. It is an amazing program where the children respond so positively to the dogs. We have instances where we have seen reading skills improved markedly. The volunteers are wonderful, patient, and invested in the program.

    • Hi, I was just woundering is there a age limit beacuse I’m 15 years old and would love to help in the 8pm to 10pm range. Also I hope i can just voulenter (with no pay) which would also help me with cheerleading credits. I just want to let you guys know that I love dogs and would any thing to help. Love, Adriane Lind

  4. The Arapahoe Library District in Colorado has offered “Doggie Tales” since 2001. Young dogs are brought in by volunteer puppy raisers for Guide Dogs for the Blind. As one of the dog handlers, I can attest to the magic that happens when children read to dogs–I’ve seen kids who can hardly speak gain enough confidence to be be almost fluent by the end of a 20 minute session. It’s great for the young dogs in training, too. They have to learn to be still and gentle with the children. It’s a win-win! here’s the link if you’re interested. http://hpwtdogmom.org/club/info/doggietales.html

  5. Meredith Schwartz Meredith Schwartz says:

    For Felisa and anyone else interested in volunteering with their dog, you can find more information here:


  6. Mary Brower says:

    I think the idea of the children reading to the therapy dogs is a great idea. However, as someone who works in an academic library, AND someone who has two dogs and knows how much training is required for a dog to be certified as a therapy dog, I have to say that having a therapy dog—who should be working in a legitimate situation such as a nursing home or a hospital—- help coddle the poor stressed out students during finals is the worst idea ever!! Are we ALL supposed to act like helicopter parents now?? Give the students some pizza and one of those squishy things you squeeze when you’re stressed and let that be the end of it. Send the dogs to a nursing home where they’re actually needed.

    • Stephanie Bucalo says:

      The training is not that extensive, I’ve done it already with one of my dogs. Delta Society provides the training. Dogs provide stress reduction to all age groups. Research, not personal opinions, prove how beneficial therapy dogs can be in many settings.

    • Karl Helicher says:

      The dogs that visited students at George Mason were not trained therapy dogs, but rather pound hounds from a local shelter. Seems like this is a good form of outreach in which students and dogs can enjoy each other, even though the dogs did not have their MD degrees.

    • Leanne Hurl says:

      Not all therapy dogs are suited to visit nursing homes or hospitals. I’ve witnessed some active dogs not do as well in the quiet slow moving nursing home setting but when they are paired with students for stress relief during exam times or used as motivators to get people walking these more active dogs shine.

  7. At the two Olathe (KS) libraries, the Read to a Dog program has become so popular that we offer it monthly at each location on a Saturday afternoon. Three cheers for our four-legged literacy advocates!

  8. Mary Brower says:

    Dear Stephanie—I’m not dissing therapy dogs at all. And Kate if you read my post, I’m not ranting against the Read to a Dog program! But do we really need to use them during finals week for college students?? Seems to me that if a student is savvy enough to get into a place like Tufts, for example, he ought to be savvy enough to handle finals week stress without a therapy dog.

  9. Karen Meier says:

    I might agree with this concern if they were devoting dogs exclusively to college students, keeping them out of the other environment where they could be making a difference. But that’s not what’s happening. Therapy Dogs make those exam-week visits to campus for just a few weeks out of the year.

    And make no mistake, college students face their share of stress, depression, and other emotional challenges. Many of them find themselves miles away from their homes and their family support system (and their own beloved pets). I think it’s more than worthwhile to shift a therapy dog’s schedule to accommodate a special visit to a college campus to offer a boost to those students, disappointing as some others might find them for being so “unsavvy” in their ability to handle exam week.

  10. Mary Brower says:

    Aww, poor babies. Poor lonely students miles away from home. You’re making me weep. Thanks for clearing all that up Karen.

  11. Mary Brower says:

    This is very clever also—it took me a second or two to realize that you meant me when you wrote “disappointing as some others might find them for being so “unsavvy” in their ability to handle exam week.” I get it now! I said to myself, she must mean me—even though she doesn’t use my name…..very clever. Or should I say “savvy”?

  12. Shirley May says:

    Mary Brower……. Our therapy dogs do all that you mentioned. Our R.E.A.D. dogs are registered to attend assisted living homes, Hospice, hospitals, schools, etc. Most of our teams spend a considerable amount of time with the elderly and ill. You should educate yourself about our animals in therapy work.

  13. Karl Helicher says:

    Wow, lighten up everyone, or else readers are going to think this is the “Celebrity Death Match Blog,” or even more horrific, the home of Annoyed Librarian. Everyone please take two dogs and call me in the morning!

  14. We have had great success with this program here at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The Corridor Therapy Dogs & their trainers/owners who do the READ program are wonderful. Both kids & adults love the program; children receive bookmarks with the dog’s picture on them and a free book each time they attend. The group even brings Dewey, the cat, (named after the original Dewey) occasionally!