You know you are a #nerdybookclub member when…by Sarah Mulhern Gross

You know you are a #nerdybookclub member when even your dog loves to read.

Yes, you read that right.  My 3-year old Australian Shepherd is an avid reader.  He is especially fond of picture books and early readers.  Some of Dublin’s favorite books include Harry the Dirty Dog, Henry the Dog with No Tail, and City Dog, Country Frog. He’d rather not read about cats, but he’ll listen if that’s what his friends want to read.

You’re probably thinking that instead of writing this blog post, I should be signing Dublin up for Stupid Pet Tricks so we can make millions and retire early.  But Dublin doesn’t do the reading.  He loves to be read to, especially when the readers are young kids.

About a year ago, I signed Dublin up for therapy dog training.  We attended six weeks of classes, where he learned how to behave around wheelchairs, loud noises, unexpected touching, and lots more.  As a handler, I also learned how to approach people we would be visiting, how to monitor Dublin in lots of different environments, and more.  At the end of the class, Dublin and I had to take two tests.  First, Dublin had to pass his AKC Canine Good Citizen, or CGC.  This is a 10-step test that stresses good doggie manners and responsible pet ownership.  The hardest part for Dublin was the step that required him to remain calm with a stranger while I left the room for three minutes.  (He’s a bit attached to me!)  After passing his CGC, Dublin and I had to take the second test.  This test was the Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs Test.  Upon passing that test, we became a certified therapy dog team.

Chris practices reading to Dublin.

Dublin has visited adult daycare facilties, nursing homes, and private homes for therapy visits.  But his favorite visits are to the library for “Read with the Dogs” programs.  We have participated in a few of these programs to far, and they are by far his favorite (and mine!).  At these events, Dublin gets to meet lots of young kids and they pet him and read to him.  He’s the center of their world for a little while.  For the kids, he is an unobtrusive audience who helps them feel more confident in their reading.  Dublin makes lots of friends at these visits and he loves to listen to his friends read out loud.

Who exactly are his friends?  Usually, they are early elementary school students who are struggling with reading.  Dublin loves to sit next to them (and eat treats) while they read him a book.  The kids love reading to Dublin, because he isn’t bothered when they struggle with a word or feel unsure about their pronunciation.  As his handler, I can ask questions for Dublin, like “Dublin has never heard that word before. Can you explain what it means?” or “Dublin was eating his treat and he missed a page. Can you retell that part?”  The child doesn’t have to feel embarrassed, because there is no adult pointing out errors or making them uncomfortable.  Instead, it’s an adorable dog who is eager to learn.  Dublin doesn’t criticize or comment on reading.  Instead, he performs tricks, asks for belly rubs, and sometimes barks.  When he barks, the kids always say “He’s laughing!  He really liked that part!”  Most of the kids even make sure they show him the pictures in the book before they turn the page.  As a teacher, this makes my heart soar.

Dublin and I at a local “Read to the Dogs” event sponsored by the Girl Scouts

Dublin and I at a local “Read to the Dogs” event sponsored by the Girl Scouts

Programs where kids get to read to the dogs have been proven to build and encourage a love of reading in students.  Therapy dogs help build excitement around reading because they are not judgemental and are a captive audience.  People trust dogs, especially kids, and being around a dog has been proven to lower blood pressure and anxiety (TherapyAnimals).  For many new readers, reading can be a scary experience.  When they struggle to read, they want to avoid it.  But reading to a therapy dog like Dublin helps them build confidence.

Dublin and I love when we get to listen to our friends read to us.  Being a therapy dog team is great for both of us.  As a #nerdybookclub member, I try to spread the joy of reading to everyone I meet.  With my students it’s easy to share my love of reading.  But acting as a therapy dog team gives me the opportunity to share that love with new readers.  Dublin loves the attention, the treats, and the belly rubs.  I love helping grow a new generation of readers.

Though I’m pretty sure Dublin is convinced there should be a picture book about his adventures with his “sister,” Bailey.  Once he writes his book we will be able to retire early.  :)

Sarah Mulhern Gross is an English teacher who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two Australian Shepherds, and cat.  She was born a member of the Nerdy Book Club.  She was “that girl” at her younger siblings’ sporting events with her head in a book.  You know, the antisocial one.  :)  She has been teaching Freshman World Literature and English IV at a STEM high school in NJ since 2010.  She previously taught sixth grade Language Arts in New Jersey.  Sarah blogs at
www.thereadingzone.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thereadingzone.