Dogs Teach Kids

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Lots of studies have shown that canine companions can help the elderly or ill feel better, but now therapy dogs are being used in a unique tutoring program. Struggling readers can practice in front of these pets, and as Heidi Robinson reports, their great listening skills pay off when the children gain confidence.           

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(Locator: Chattanooga, Tn.)

These children hustle off the school bus and in the doors of the after-school program at First Centenary United Methodist Church. They hurry because every child wants an opportunity to work with the reading coaches. No, not him. Not her.

The children want to read to these little ladies...the furry ones. Peppy and Brandy are here to help their young pupils practice reading. And, the children are serious about showing their four-legged friends their skills have improved.

Nat/Child reading: “But our fish said, ‘No, no make that cat go away. Tell that Cat in the Hat you do not want to play.’”

The dogs represent a partnership between the church and “Read-Aloud Chattanooga” – a privately-funded effort to help children learn to love reading. Sixty children are enrolled in the afternoon tutoring program, and most are considered “at-risk” because of very low test scores. But the church sees these children as future bookworms, and the dogs are part of that transformation.

Beverly Trobaugh/Early Childhood Educator: “Reading to a dog is reading to someone who is totally non-judgmental. If you have a dog who is sitting with his head in your lap, and you make a mistake when you’re a reader, they’re just going to blink at you and smile and just keep on going.”

Peppy and Brandy have more students waiting. Jemell hopes the dogs notice his progress.

Nat/Jemell reads to dog: “Do you have a job for me, asked Fox.”

Jemell says he knows his job is to practice reading, so the dogs can enjoy his stories.

Jemell Smith/Reading Program Participant: “Because it listened to me when I was reading, and it knew when to look at the pictures, so that’s how I knew it could understand me.”


Program directors say because reading impacts all academic subjects, they have seen children’s grades and test scores rise with reading proficiency.

For information about the reading program at First Centenary United Methodist Church, contact Beverly Trobaugh at 423-756-9736.