Do dogs understand when people talk to them? Well, dogs certainly appear to understand tone and particular words, such as “walk” and “sit.” Does that mean that dogs can understand when you read to them? Probably not, yet the Maurice M. Pine Free Public Library (Fair Lawn, NJ) offers children the opportunity to read to a dog.
So, why bother reading to a dog? I know why we signed BR up to read to a dog.
BR asks Ms. MMK and me for a dog more often than he washes his hands. Disclaimer: He’s an 11-year old boy. If BR had a tail, he would wag it when he sees a dog. He does a type of jump-skip and says, “Look there’s a dog!” every time he passes one.
So, signing BR read to the dog was a no-brainer. Maybe, it’ll give Ms. MMK and me a break from having to say “no” to BR’s regular query.
BR and I got to the Fair Lawn Library a couple of minutes early for his dog reading session. We were told that BR could select a book to read from some books they had chosen, or pick one from the library’s collection. BR decided to select his own book. He recently became a fan of the Grk series by Joshua Doder (pseudonym) Grk (a dog) and his owner, Tim (a boy), go on a series of adventures.
When BR’s turn came, we entered a special room and were introduced to Jersey Girl, a trained therapy dog. Jersey Girl is a seven-year-old bull mastiff and her owners are Bill and Patricia. Jersey Girl is a trained therapy dog who spent a few years going to old age homes before going around to libraries.
As soon as we entered the room where BR was to read to Jersey Girl, she began licking BR’s face. BR enjoyed the affection and sat still while the dog offered this wet embrace. BR settled in and began reading from the Grk book while Jersey Girl lay on the rug. She was silent and remained so the whole time BR read. In fact, the whole room was silent save for BR’s reading.
Therapy dogs are trained for such moments. According to Therapy Dog International, therapy dogs need to go through 13 tests to qualify. The last test is reaction to children. In a nutshell, the dog must be calm while children are being their normal excitable selves. Dogs must be at least one year old to become a therapy dog, and training can last up to 16 weeks.
Prevention.com notes that both people and therapy dogs derive health benefits when they interact. In one study, just a 12-minute visit with a dog lowered blood pressure and anxiety in people who had experienced heart failure. Even the dogs reap rewards: According to the Veterinary Journal, both canines and humans experience increases in oxytocin and dopamine levels — two chemicals in the body that are increased with positive feelings — after interacting.
The only time Jersey Girl reacted was when I took out my phone to take a picture. She was curious each time I did so. The look she gave me made it clear that Jersey Girl would not take to the paparazzi. Yet after the reading had elapsed, Patricia took a picture of BR and Jersey Girl. The dog was perfectly still. I wish I could train my children to be that still for photographs.
After BR and I said our goodbyes to Jersey Girl, Bill, and Patricia, he walked out of the Fair Lawn Library smiling and content. I’m not sure if Jersey Girl liked Grk, but if she wants to hear the rest of the story, I know someone who would be happy to oblige. Thanks, Jersey Girl. Thanks, Fair Lawn Library.