Dogs help us to belong

Dear friends,

Most of us are, hopefully, preparing for a summer break! Why not take some time to read about the dog world in dogdotcom and to count our blessings?

In a little more than one month, many will gather in Helsinki for what could be the biggest FCI World Dog Show ever: the registration are more than promising and, Finland being a doggy country, we can expect a high participation!

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Marie Luna Durán
FCI Marketing and Public Relations Manager
A dog is a great companion for kids learning to read

About twenty kids had a reading experience with „Listening Dogs“ in Himmaste Public Library last Friday. The kids were visited by Afghan Hound Tentel and young Newfoundland Leero together with their owners-handlers Jane and Meeli.

Obviously, many would ask – how can there be dogs in Public Library and what are they there for? The project is introduced by Jane Jaggo, who works as a kindergarten teacher herself. „Are you scared to speak publicly in front of your class?“ Jane Jaggo asked the kids. Two thirds of them replied positively. So where does that fear come from?

Learning to read is not easy for everyone. Learning slowly or making mistakes in reading may cause one to be criticised or even bullied at home or in school. A child is easily offended and even one nasty comment may have devastating effect – the child becomes unsure, loses motivation to learn and definitely dares not read out loud. Some children are self-concious and shy already by nature.

The dog does not really teach anyone to read, but rather offers support, helping the child to overcome their fear to read. The dog is an excellent companion to the child learning to read – it does not laugh at you, when you do not get it right, it does not interfere with your reading nor loses patience with you. Being a silent listener it is just next to the child so the child feels s/he has a good and supportive friend.

Worldwide-known therapy

Children reading to dogs or „Listening Dogs“ is a well-known therapy practice that has been used around the World for almost the past 40 years. A few years ago Jane Jaggo – owner of more than one dog – heard of a man in Great Britain, who goes around the World together with his dog Danny and encourages kids to read.

„I sent him a letter and asked, what is this „Listening Dogs“ project all about and how to get started. He sent me a lot of literature on the matter and I worked myself through it,“ said Jaggo.

Rumours about the well-known therapy practice reached the ears of one of the Tartu Public Library librarians and got her interested. The librarians started asking around, whether someone in Estonia was already involved in such therapy sessions. Word got around and fortunately reached Jaggo. So the „supply and demand“ met and the project got started.

Jane Jaggo also said, that although in other countries miniponies and minipigs are used as therapy animals as well, in Estonia even reading-assisting therapy dogs are such a rare thing, that they become famous in media already before the first reading session was held.

Tartu Public Library and the „Listening Dogs“

The reading sessions take place twice a month in Tartu. Both times two sessions lasting for 30 minutes each. Starting from April, there will be four sessions, because both the children and their parents are most interested in joining in. Several kindergarten and preliminary school teachers have already shown interest in inviting the dogs over for a visit.

Accorging to Jaggo, the optimal number of children per reading-assisting therapy dog is 1-3, but it has been as high as 5. Once the handler and the dog have settled down in the reading corner, the kids join them. They either sit or even lie down next to the dog. In case the group is small, the kids can read out in semi-loud or loud voice. In case there are more kids, they must read in whisper or silently. If the child cannot read yet, s/he may look at the pictures together with the dog and tell, what s/he sees.

„During the dog-assisted reading sessions, spelling the word right is of no major importance. What is important, is having the courage to read. The two months of therapy sessions in Tartu have shown that kids, who were barely able to read at the start of the sessions, can now finish the whole story within the 30 minutes of one session.

Spirited Leero and Gentle Tentel

In Himmaste one dog had to divide its attention between ten kids. Of the two dogs, Leero was the more active one, nudging the hands holding the books as if encouraging the kids to not just sit around, but read. Tentel took a look around and then observed with a contented sigh, that everything was in best order.

The „listening dogs“ were invited to Himmaste by the librarian Ene Lugamets, who heard about the project from Põlva Central Public Library and from the media.

The handlers of the dogs also shortly introduced the two breeds Tentel and Leero represented. The dog participating in dog-assisted reading therapy sessions must be very calm and patient both with the kids as well as with other dogs. The owner of Tentel, who works as a kindergarten teacher, first „tried out“ her dog in the kindergarten, and could see at once, that the dog has potential for such work.

Reading sessions together with the dog are based on voluntary work – no money is offered for this. In case the sessions take place outside Tartu, the organisers compensate the traveling costs. In the future the reading-assisting dogs will be wearing a special scarf, showing they are therapy dogs.

Margit Õkva
This article was originally published in Põlva newspaper Koit on March 25th, 2014

Dog-assisted reading sessions for kids in Estonian Public Libraries:
man’s best friend is again lending a paw!
Interview with Jane Jaggo

Can you tell us about the genesis of the project? Have you been inspired by similar initiatives in other countries?

I had heard about the « Listening Dogs » a while ago, but only two years ago I noticed the FB post of an English gentleman, Tony Nevetti, introducing his and his dog’s work in UK and in USA. That got me really interested and I wrote Tony, who was most kind to answer my questions. I worked my way through a number of articles on «listening dogs » and decided that Estonia also needs such a project.

Then I got an Afghan Hound and as the dog grew up I understood, that she is just the one I could see myself working with in the dog-assisted reading therapy project. My warmest gratitude goes to the kennel Al Khabara, who trusted me with my precious darling Tentel and thus made the project possible. This January I was contacted by Mrs Ewa Roots from Tartu Public Library and was asked whether I would be interested in organising the « Listening Dog » project with them. I agreed without hesitation and the rest is history.

My true inspiration for going through with this project is Tony and his Greyhound Danny and it is really important for me that Tony follows and supports our work. We hope to invite Tony to visit Estonia and tell more about the « Listening Dog » project in UK and USA to people interested in dog-assisted reading therapy.

Estonia, which has a population of 1.3 million, boasts 100% literacy for 15-year old citizens and older. Will these dog-assisted reading sessions make Estonians the best public speakers?

The project is still too much in development in Estonia to make any groundshattering conclusions, but we are most confident the “Listening Dogs” contribute to children feeling more comfortable to step up as public speakers.

Cursive handwriting is slowly disappearing and is considered as useless for millions of users of electronic devices. What kind of comment does this inspire you, if compared with your dog-assisted reading sessions?

It is not so much about being able to write by hand, but rather about ability to read functionally. Everybody is always in a hurry and people do not seem to have the time to read – all the “real life” goes on in the virtual world or at least outside home. The parents themselves do not seem to read a lot and thus the children do not develop the interest in books. Children can read, but not necessarily fully understand the texts, as they do not have time to absorb the true meaning of the text.

The preliminary goal of the “Listening Dogs” project was to assist children with reading disability, so they can develop their reading ability in secure and supportive environment. Next to teaching the children to read better, we aim on bringing the children to the Public Libraries, where a larger number of books are available. We would be most happy, if a child or even an adult – who does not frequent Libraries at other times – would still come to the Library, even if it is only to see the dogs. We would be happy if they changed the world of computers and TV-s to that of the books, if only for a while.

When the child reads to the dog, s/he feels as if in a time loop and is thus more motivated to finish reading the story or the book at hand.

How is the initiative perceived? (by the professionals working in libraries, by library users, by teachers, by parents whose children attend the reading sessions, by the press,…).

The responses have been through-and-through positive. Even before the first reading session took place, we were contacted by Estonian media channels and could introduce the project to the public. The project was closely followed and introduced by different media channels almost on weekly basis. Everywhere we have gone, we have been warmly welcome. Aside from the sessions in our “home court” Tartu Public Library, we have been invited to visit several kindergartens and schools. We can see, that the reading sessions are pleasing both the children and their parents.

The “listening dogs” are distinguished by light-green scarf with the text “READ WITH ME” . Whenever we walk the streets, people always smile at us and often come to tell us how thrilled they are about the project.

Are you monitoring the experience in any way? Do psychologists, specialists of educational programmes, or any other profession participate in - or just express their reaction to – your work?

We definitely plan to monitor and analyse the results of the therapy sessions. Currently there is no academic work involved with the Estonian “Listening Dogs” project, but having worked myself for six years as a teacher of children with disabilities, I have helped parents of such children to find suitable dogs for the family or help to strengthen the interaction between such a child and the dog of the family.

Our project has caught the attention of well-known therapists, who have expressed their wish to incorporate our dogs in their daily work. We are also assisted by several therapists. The reading-dog therapy sessions have been suggested for some children within their rehabilitation plans.

What are the main positive effects of having children reading aloud to dogs?

For whatever the reason, many children are not too good when it comes to reading. If that makes the child uncomfortable around other children – especially if s/he is bullied because of that – the child will “close down” and become a loner.

Being around the dogs, the child feels comforted and carefree. The dog does not correct the child, nor laughs or comments the possible mistakes. The dog makes the child feel good and be just what s/he is.

We hold two different types of reading sessions: individual and group. In group sessions there are several dogs in the room, out of whom the child picks the one s/he wants to read to. The children take no notice of the other kids in the same room, who might actually hear them reading out loud. The children solely concentrates reading to the dog of choice, and once they later understand, that other children could also hear, it will give them courage to read out loud also in front of the class.

Besides developing the reading skills, the emotional side is just as important – the child must have time to interact with the dog, to pat and pet it.

How many kinds of profiles are involved in a reading session? (training sessions for dogs, volunteers,…)

The “Listening Dogs” in Tartu is a small group of people, whose work I coordinate. Our dogs have not been specially trained for the task, but all of them have an experience with disabled children. The work is done free of charge on voluntary basis.

I have asked my friends to join in this project – people I know and trust. I can trust their ability to “read “ and train their dog. Our dogs have also participated in several events held in different kindergartens, they are calm and social and know how to handle different situations.

Do you have any comment, suggestion or specific message to address the readers of dogdotcom?

Value the people and animals around you, support the ones weaker than you, try to understand the ones different from you and of course – read, read, read. There is always some kind of magic in the books, something new to find even from the ones you have re-read on several occasions.

Thank you very much for sharing this initiative with us!

Interview: Marie Luna Durán, FCI Marketing and Public Relations Manager