The Dog That Helped My Daughter Read
by Sally Keys
“Your daughter is struggling to read aloud in class,” said her teacher to me as I picked her up from school one day. The words struck fear into me. Not because I feared my daughter was not bright - I know she is a fantastic, decisive leader, and is very intelligent to boot - far more so than me. It struck fear into my heart because it reminded me of what I went through as a child. I, too, had mild dyslexia, and reading aloud terrified me. Whenever forced to do it, I would stumble over words, misread words, and accidentally re-read the same sentence twice.
In those days, the teachers only made a mild show of stopping the children from mocking me or sniggering, and if they did, my classmates would just wait until after the teacher had left the room to tease me further, sometimes physically. In terms of school assistance, there was none, I was just written off as being a striver who was not really any good.
Luckily, as this flashed through my mind, standing there talking to the teacher, things have changed over the last decade or two. I am only in my 20s, but now many schools are looking to give more support to children with learning difficulties or different ways of learning. So, as I stood there amazed, the teacher invited me inside to meet her dog, a chocolate Labrador called Sarge - named so because of a resemblance to her father, a former Army Sergeant.
He was a portly middle aged dog, but I could tell he was a kindly soul. The teacher then explained that instead of reading to the class with all of its associated pressures and dangers to her confidence, my daughter will read to Sarge.
Over the last few months, I have seen her reading ability rise and rise. She even comes to me to read now. Sarge never judges her, he just rests his head on her lap and listens to her read. If she makes a mistake he does nothing, just waits for her to re-find her place and try again. Now, having done some research, I can see schools all over the world are now employing reading dogs to help children like my daughter learn to read. Some of them are specially trained by charities and schools, some are owned by teachers like Sarge, and some are rescue dogs with kindly personalities in need of a loving home. But all of them are helping children develop confidence and improve their reading.