Animal experts have revealed how they have helped children struggling with reading problems by getting them to tell stories to abandoned dogs.
The Shelter Buddy Reading programme was initiated by dog coach Gudrun Braun at the Tierschutzhaus animal shelter in Voesendorf south of Vienna, Austria.
The monthly workshops – during which primary and secondary pupils can sit down on cushions right in front of the kennels – were recently restarted after a two-year break induced by COVID-19 pandemic social distancing restrictions.
Fourteen children participated in the first edition of the initiative after its restart, according to Braun.
She explained: “We are overwhelmed with how it went. The kids had a great time, they visibly enjoyed it.
“Furthermore, they were able to prove their improved reading skills.
“We inform the children before each session how to react if one of the dogs shows signs of stress. We carefully educate the children so they are well prepared.”
“As far as the dogs are regarded, the reading sessions can help them rebuild trust in humans. Such a development increases their chances to find a new home.”
The duration of the reading sessions depends on the children’s interest and their attention. However, they do not last longer than 45 minutes. A pedagogue and a dog coach are present to ensure all participants feel comfortable.
Lydia Gruenzweig heads the Austrian Association For Reading. She said: “Especially children who struggle a bit tend to have a negative attitude towards reading.
“Many learners find it boring to read on their own. Here they find recipients who do not put them under pressure.
“By reading children’s stories to dogs can turn this issue they might have considered as something negative into a positive matter. They regain self-confidence.”
Organiser Ms Braun added: “I love the atmosphere after the excitement has declined a bit. It usually gets very quiet after 15 minutes.”
Speaking about the various advantages of the project, she said: “The kids chuckle when they read out something incorrectly. They are not afraid of making mistakes.
“Dogs are patient. They appreciate getting attention.”
Children aged between eight and 12 can participate, according to Ms Braun. She underlines that pupils who do not struggle with reading are welcome too.
The children can bring their favourite books or choose one from the specialised library the animal shelter has established.
The children’s parents are asked for a two-Euro (GBP 1.75) donation for each session to support the work of the animal shelter.