Tan dog with reading glasses sitting in the library.

Why Reading to Shelter Dogs is So Beneficial

Have you ever noticed your dog paying attention to you when you read aloud? Or perhaps as you put the kids to bed and read them a nighttime story, your dog will come to join you and lay his head on your lap. You may soon notice him closing his eyes just as your little ones start to drop off to sleep.

Is this just a coincidence or does your dog really want to hear the story you are reading?

Most likely, your dog enjoys the sound of your voice when you read and it has a soothing effect on him. He may not understand the story, but your dog likes the feeling of being close to you while you read in a calm, pleasant voice.

Why Does a Dog Enjoy it When You Read to Him?

1. You are paying attention to him

Dogs are very social animals and like to connect with us. Those who are left alone a lot or were in a shelter or puppy mill often crave attention, but in a positive manner. Dogs who have been severely disciplined or abused may shy away from people after they have been rescued. Therefore, reading can be a neutral activity and a non-threatening way to interact with a newly rescued dog.

2. Reading is a calming activity

When we read, we usually speak in a subtle, narrative voice. We are not speaking loudly, scolding, or trying to get the dog excited. We are merely speaking in a pleasant voice using even, quiet tones. Reading can be very soothing and comforting to a dog, especially if he has been newly adopted and is feeling frightened or anxious.

3. Making a connection

Reading is a great way to socially connect with your dog without requiring anything on his part. You are simply there with him, talking to him, and becoming more familiar to him through your voice and quiet presence.

4. Reading to your dog can increase your bond

Engaging with your dog in any form helps to increase your bond. Even though our dogs may not understand everything we say to them, they know that we are communicating with them and that they are important to us. Be sure to see my post How to Bond with Your New Rescue Dog.

5. Intimacy

Woman relaxing on sofa reading book with jack russel puppy dog. Good relationships with pets and home relaxing
Woman relaxing on sofa reading book to Jack Russell puppy dog.

Reading to your dog is also an excellent way to build intimacy. Just as we read to children at night before tucking them in, this is a very special time of closeness in which children feel warm and safe and comforted by their favorite story just as they drift off to sleep.

Dogs will also feel a similar sense of comfort and safety as you read to them. Don’t be surprised if they drift off to sleep! They are not bored. They are content!

Calming Shelter Dogs Through Reading Programs

“I think the greatest benefit to [the dogs] is that they are regularly experiencing positive interactions with caring people who provide companionship and comfort,” 

JoEllyn Klepacki, Director of Education at Humane Society of Missouri

Shelter Programs

Shelters have experimented with using different sounds, music, and reading to help shelter dogs calm down and be less anxious and frightened. Hands down, reading to dogs helped the most. Programs that train children volunteers to read to shelter dogs have proven to be extremely successful. Not only does this help in calming the dogs, but it improves their behavior and their adoptability. To learn more about sounds that dogs love, see my post Sounds That Your Dog Will Either Hate or Love.

Ellyce Rothrock wrote an article for feelfreehappyhomes.com documenting two different shelters that initiated reading programs. In both cases, children were trained how to interact and read to the dogs. They became sensitive to what the dogs might be experiencing and read to them in their “library” voices.

Patti Whitaker, a board member of Stephens County Humane Society says, “It is amazing to see this process. When we first walk into the kennel room, of course, the dogs are all barking and excited, but as the process begins, the dogs calm down and become quiet, their attention on the reader. Some of the dogs have even fallen asleep. The dogs are absolutely calmer when the session ends. It is precious.”

The Humane Society of Missouri, which houses 8,000 to 10,000 dogs annually, has seen a significant reduction in the average length of stay from 14 to 6 days. The dogs have fewer behavioral problems and become much easier to be adopted. The director of education of HSOM, JoEllyn Klepacki said, “I think the greatest benefit to [the dogs] is that they are regularly experiencing positive interactions with caring people who provide companionship and comfort.” 

Children Reading to Dogs

See this heartwarming video clip by NBC News of children reading to dogs at the Humane Society of Missouri.

Benefits for Children and Owners

Children’s Reading Programs

Children who read to dogs often build self-confidence for important life skills such as public speaking and reading documents and stories to others. A number of literacy programs have sprung up across the country pairing children with therapy dogs, dogs at shelters, and their own personal pets to help encourage the practice and development of important literacy skills.

Children with disabilities can practice and work on their skills in front of a non-judgemental audience who pays attention to their every word. Not only will their canine audience listen, but they are also grateful and happy for the attention. The excitement of the dogs provides a positive and encouraging feedback signal.

The Humane Society of Sonoma County which has several “read to a dog” programs, lists the following benefits for children because dogs:

  • don’t judge, laugh or criticize
  • allow children to proceed at their own pace
  • reduce anxiety and are less intimidating than peers
  • increase interest and motivation in reading
  • help students gain confidence and self-esteem
  • provide companionship and friendship while learning something new
  • can help students improve decoding, vocabulary, reading fluency, and comprehension skills by making reading relaxing, fun, and furry!

Benefits for Owners who Read to Their Dogs

Many studies have demonstrated that the very act of reading is an activity that reduces stress. Likewise, studies have also demonstrated that owning a dog can also be a huge stress reliever due to the engagement, companionship, fun activities, and non-judgemental attachment of having a pet.

Therefore, reading to your dog has the double benefit of combining a quiet, low-stress activity with your best furry pal! Additionally, you will receive some of the same benefits as your dog from reading to him such as increased bonding, intimacy, and a sense of calm.

Final Thoughts

So give it a try! You may be surprised how much both you and your dog love reading together. And, if you have time, volunteer to read to dogs at your local shelter. Rescued dogs who are waiting for their forever home will truly appreciate the extra love and attention!

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