What you might not know is that the idea for this program, How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed In the Classroom, was born nearly thirteen years ago when I brought my puppy Tango into my own 2nd grade classroom to meet my students. I wasn’t intending to have the children read to her, but some of the young boys spontaneously began bringing books to read to her during their precious 10 minutes of “Tango Time,” which they earned by being kind and respectful to themselves and others each week. I was shocked by what happened next. I overheard the boys arguing during recess about which books Tango liked most, which then resulted in a “Tango’s Recommended Books” section of our classroom library.
Unfortunately, these days it is very difficult to bring live dogs into classrooms for various reasons. Some children have allergies, others are quite fearful of dogs, school policies sometimes do not allow dogs on school property, and some cultures view dogs as being unclean. So I needed to find a way to bring this learning into all classrooms without bringing in live dogs. Therefore, during this program, the students learn and practice skills with “adopted” stuffed dogs, and then go home and practice with their own pets and/or stuffed animals. Bringing in a live dog (who has been pre-screened for being safe around children) for the children to read to is a wonderful way for the students to showcase their learning towards the end of the program.
It has been quite awhile since I’ve brought my little Tango into classrooms, but this morning was a wonderful reminder of why I do this work. The children just lit up when they saw my little dog, and demonstrated all of the important skills and knowledge they have been learning about being appropriate and loving around dogs throughout this program. They showed me how to meet a new dog safely. They were careful not to run, make quick movements that might scare her, or speak in loud voices. They didn’t crowd her, and took turns petting her so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. They read to her in voices that reminded me of a parent’s heart as they read a bedtime story to their child, all the while petting her and nurturing her gently and with great care. What a loving, compassionate, and intelligent group of children, and I feel so grateful to have been able to spend this time with them. A treat for all of us!