Read to the dog! And no we're not barking.

Suggesting to your child that sometimes, they might want to read to your pet perhaps seems a little odd but the reality is that a dog, cat, hamster or even a favourite stuffed toy, never judges. Fear of making a mistake or not being quite good enough often holds a child back when they are asked to read aloud, but, if they are confident their audience won’t critique their performance, they might be more willing to give it a go.

Therapy dogs are increasingly becoming part of primary schools in the UK and frequently they are being used to ‘listen’ to children read because they can help create the right environment.

What often inhibits a child when reading to an adult is the fear of failure. Learning to read takes a lot of effort for both children and parents and listening to a child read can sometimes be frustrating for both parties! A child reading to the dog knows that their mistakes aren’t going to be scrutinized so they are more likely to persevere when they get to a tricky bit rather than getting upset or cross. They can take their time to work out a word or substitute it for something else that makes sense without feeling under pressure to get it 100% right. It gives a child the opportunity to self-correct which is a valuable reading skill but less likely to happen when reading to an adult.

To become an effective reader, a child needs to feel comfortable and in control around books. Reading to the dog gives a child that control as, whatever their reading ability, it is superior to that of their pet. Some children may even feel like they are providing a service to the dog so are less likely to skip parts of the book - which they might have done if they were reading it in their head. It can also help a child make the important connection that reading can be pleasurable – they are doing it because the dog is enjoying it!

Older children are often embarrassed to try and read with expression or add character voices when they’re reading with an adult and they might feel silly reading aloud to themselves. A pet legitimizes their efforts and would never laugh at their attempts at an accent!

As always, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the child is reading the words or not - if the book is used as a catalyst and the child branches off into telling their own story, it’s still all good; storytelling helps build reading skills.

Reading to a pet is a reading experience a child can have independently but not quite alone. Used in addition to hearing a child read and reading to a child it can be a really powerful way to boost a child’s reading confidence.