Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Meet the Reading Dogs of Abu Dhabi: the four-legged friends are helping children in the UAE read

Reading with animals has been found to have social, educational and emotional benefits

The Reading Dogs are coming to Abu Dhabi this September. The educational programme helps create a positive association with both books and animals, and "raises the confidence of children who might otherwise be nervous when reading out loud", says Karalynn Thomson, founder of the Animal Agency.

The project was launched in Dubai in 2017 by Thomson's agency after she took part in a similar scheme in the UK and saw the benefits first-hand. There are now 24 Reading Dogs in Dubai and the programme will launch in Abu Dhabi with five this autumn.

Click through the gallery above to read about all of the Abu Dhabi reading dogs.

According to studies carried out by the University of California, Davis, reading with dogs has significant emotional, social and educational benefits. The 2010 study revealed that by reading to a dog children's "fluency improved by 12 per cent in the first study and by 30 per cent in the second study". By the end, a substantial 75 per cent of parents reported that their children read aloud more frequently and with greater confidence.

In order to qualify as a Reading Dog, each dog has to go through a rigorous assessment programme overseen by our dog trainer Denise Vertigen. All Reading Dogs have also been given a clean bill of health by their local vet. Reem Mohammed / The National 
In order to qualify as a Reading Dog, each dog has to go through a rigorous assessment programme overseen by dog trainer, Michele Dunn. All Reading Dogs have also been given a clean bill of health by their local vet. Reem Mohammed / The National

"I feel relaxed when I am reading to a dog because I am having fun,” one child told researchers. A second added: "The dogs don’t care if you read really, really bad so you just keep going."

As part of the UAE programme, a team of specially trained dogs visit schools, nurseries or private venues on a weekly basis to deliver class, group or one-on-one sessions. "Reading to a dog helps children relax into reading, open up, try harder and have fun reading," Thomson tells The National. "Our specially chosen, child-friendly and extremely calm dogs are the perfect reading companions. They don’t judge or correct, they allow children to read at their own pace and they’ve proven to be a calming influence on a class."

In order to qualify as a Reading Dog, each has to go through a rigorous assessment programme overseen by trainer Denise Vertigen. All Reading Dogs have also been given a clean bill of health by their local vet.

The canines taking part in the Abu Dhabi programme include Tia, a Bernese mountain dog, Minnie, a French bulldog, and Vasya, an Afghan hound. The different sizes and personalities of the dogs mean there is a suitable four-legged companion for all ages and confidence levels, says Thompson.

A girl reads with Adelaide the Mixed Breed Reading Dog. Adelaide is currently being trained by Reading Dogs Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National  
A girl reads with Adelaide the Mixed Breed Reading Dog. Adelaide is currently being trained by Reading Dogs Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National

The reading sessions are not just for children, but also offered to university students in Dubai as "sessions help them during stressful periods such as exam time," Thompson says, adding: "The benefits of spending time with a dog are the same for a child or adult so we can also deliver private adult sessions." Each session lasts for 30 minutes and costs Dh350. The Animal Agency is currently offering one complimentary reading session and a school assembly when five reading sessions are booked.

Thomson, who is from the UK, has lived in the UAE for 26 years and launched the Animal Agency, which also offers animal models and actors of varying colours, shapes, breeds and sizes to the media, advertising and event industries, in 2015.

Benefits of reading with dogs

According to Thomson, the benefits of reading to dogs include:

  • Children typically feel reading out loud becomes less difficult as dogs don't judge or correct them
  • Reading to dogs motivates children to read more at home, especially to their pets
  • Meeting dogs in the library creates a positive association to both reading and libraries
  • Petting dogs can help with motor skills, and is known to be a calming factor as it can reduce stress, blood pressure and anxiety
  • Reading to dogs can boost the confidence of struggling readers and gives them an increased sense of pride
  • A child can feel like a leader by reading aloud and pretending to be the teacher
  • Children learn to take turns while waiting to read to the dog
  • Children can learn kindness and empathy by petting and interacting with the dog
  • Communication skills can be improved by practising reading aloud
  • Participants enjoy communicating with each other and talking about the session, the dog and the book they read

Updated: August 1, 2019 03:23 PM

SHARE

SHARE