Read dogs: nonjudgmental greyhounds that listen to kids reading

Inspired by an American scheme, a primary school in Staffordshire, England is using "read dogs" -- specially trained greyhounds that listen patiently and nonjudgmentally while small children read aloud to them.
Danny received five months of training to become a Read dog. Greyhounds are particularly well-suited because they do not bark and their short coat is less likely to trigger allergies.

Nevett hopes that the scheme, piloted in Kent, will spread. "We've had some success stories, including a girl with Down's Syndrome who really took to the dog and improved her reading," he says. "When Danny goes to sleep I tell the children that he's dreaming about their story."

The dogs who listen to children reading


  1. The school my son attends has a read to a dog program, but what i really love about this article, is the English use of the word scheme. We had a computer purchase program here, and my friends in the UK office had a computer purchase scheme. I always felt that they were getting away with something, like they were taking the computers and selling them out of a white van at a gas station.

  2. This is extremely both cute and useful!. Wonderful idea, I will comment it to my mom (she is a teacher).

  3. I just want to know how they trained the dog to sit still that long. Our greyhound mix had the attention span of a caffeinated ferret.

    1. Most greyhounds have no problem lying down and staying there for hours. Mine sits around a good 18 hrs a day. They really only need a few minutes of exercise plus some walks and that’s enough to tire them out.

      1. Must have been the “mix” (Greyhound/Husky we think) that did it. Ours was hyper-active and nearly ran our other dog (Shepherd/Chow mix) to death. We ended up having to find him a new home.

        1. Greyhound/Husky? OMFG. Words fail me. I can only imagine how those behavioral genes conflicted in every possible way.

    2. I think the operative word there is “mix”. Greyhounds are incredibly calm animals when they’re not chasing a small mammal (real or mechanical).

  4. Great article. We’ve also been doing this program at Halifax Public Libraries in Nova Scotia for a few years now, it’s called PAWS to Read and is one of our most popular children’s programs.

    1. Love your program name Paws to Read. I have a whippet who is a trained therapy dog and am planning on taking him into the local primary school here in Bellingen, Australia soon. May I use the name of your program too?

      Anne Graham

  5. New part-time job opportunity for students?
    Skills required:
    a) “quietly listening to completely uninteresting speech while appearing marginally alert over prolonged periods of time”
    b) “a non-allergenic coat of hair (optional but highly desirable)”

  6. Ottawa (Canada) libraries have been doing a similar things and it looks like it’s a wonderful success! They also use the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program. My 4-year old absolutely loved reading a kid’s book about knights and castles to Zip, a beautiful retriever that looked at him kindly the whole time.

    What Ottawa is doing:
    The main program (linked in the article, but I’ll put it here for future reference and extra Google points!):

    1. Imagine if they tried it with rabbits. The disapproval would be terrifying!

      I heard of a library that does this where the kids can “check out” the dog for a half hour period, using a “bark code”.

    2. You’ll notice they’re not doing this with cats. Judgmental bastards.

      Cats are also notorious for bad spelling and grammar.

    3. Cats do have the ability to sleep …i mean… listen patiently while you read to them, but they will insist on doing it atop whatever you are trying to read.

      Manooshi – Greys make great apartment dogs. They’ll happily be couch potatoes 18 hours of the day until you take them for a walk. In fact, considering greyhounds have been known to seriously injure themselves by hitting something at 45MPH while taking off after something outdoors…Going for walks vs. being off-leash in a yard is probably better.

  7. My aunt teaches special ed in Kansas, and she brings her well-behaved dog to class on Fridays. It’s considered quite an honor to get to read to the dog, which I believe is a wire-haired…something.
    She took him to training classes for 3 months or so before he passed the test to be a “therapy dog,” which was the certification required before he could go with her to public school.

  8. I think my gf’s reaction is the correct one: “I’m torn between ‘awwww’ and being sad that they can’t find a non-judgmental adult to listen to them”.

    1. Am I the only one who reacted to this with “Stop torturing the poor dogs with children’s poor reading skills!”?

    2. I was still thinking about your comment when I had an experience with my daughter who’s five – she sounded out a word, and I said something like “that’s right, you got it” and at that moment I realized the true meaning of the dog being nonjudgmental – it doesn’t just mean that the dog isn’t harshing on the kid. It means that the dog is truly providing acceptance, with absolutely zero feedback on the reading, which I think is something that a dog will be able to achieve much much more easily than a human.

      Even if I were to try to condition myself to provide no reinforcement at all – positive or negative – I still suspect that my facial expressions would give away some trace of “that was right” or “that was not”. And I think there’s definitely a place for that – for an adult to teach a child how to read. But I think the real benefits of the dog – of having someone just. . . listen, and nothing more – that would be quite difficult for a person.

  9. Greyhounds are fantastic listeners… and sleepers. Among the most graceful and beautiful of dogs.

  10. The Framingham Public Library in Framingham, Massachusetts has a reading to dogs program too.

  11. Oh, very cool! Anything that removes the judgemental adult from the picture is a good thing. Animal puppets work great toward that end, as well. Kids that would usually prefer someone read to them, but are perfectly capable of doing it themselves, will often give in to a whiney dinosaur or monkey that begs them to read with a beseeching, “Oh, please please please please please!” You end up sounding like an idiot, but, it does get the kids to read.

  12. I’m seeing a straight-to-DVD Disney cash-in where an-ultra patient greyhound, a small child whose rich imagination the adult world doesn’t understand, and a sarcastic and highly judgemental terrier all learn heartwarming lessons from one another…

  13. “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

  14. I am pretty surprised to see all the talk about hyper greyhounds. All the greyhounds I have know have, as other commenters said, pretty much done nothing for 18 hours at a time. True they go nuts when you let them outside, but most of the time they just lay around with about the same expression on their face as the dog in the picture. I guess this may be an age driven phenomenon, all the greyhounds I have know are former races and at least 6 years old………..

  15. Greyhounds are the best dogs! Kids love my family’s–they constantly think she’s a deer.

  16. A number of ex-stutterers — including James Earl Jones, if I remember correctly — have mentioned practicing on animals for much this reason.

    I just spent an hour this weekend reciting to one of my cats. Might have spent longer, but I couldn’t get up to get the reading material…

    1. I’ll vouch for that, first hand. It helps. I had a debilitating stutter through about age 20, but was always fluent when speaking to animals. I still stutter, it’s just rare for it to hold me up at all.

  17. Check out Ace the Library Dog:

    Literally check him out. Ace is a part of the the Northern Onondaga Public Library’s collection complete with his own bar code. He’s similar to a READ dog but what we’ve found is that people want to do so much more with dogs.

    Some people check him out just to pet him, some check him out because they are thinking about adopting a dog and want a “test run” with the kids to get them practice on how to treat a dog. Some kids want to learn about animal behaviorism and practice teaching him new tricks. And of course some read to him and he especially likes helping kids who have difficulty reading and are too shy to practice reading with people.

  18. You can’t do this with Border collies.

    They keep interrupting to correct the kids’ pronunciation.

  19. I love Greyhounds. I’ve always thought that they are the most beautiful and graceful of all dogs. I hope to have one some day if I live in a house with a yard for it to be able to go outside and run around.

    I hope the dog pictured above is not totally bored.

  20. Damn, what a beautiful thing for these children, I am very happy for them. I bet they walk away feeling great about themselves. These are the small moments that make big steps for better lives.

  21. A child will certainly be less inhibited in the presence of a dog than in the presence of an adult.

  22. “When Danny goes to sleep I tell the children that he’s dreaming about their story.”

    That is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard and I’m tearing up and I should just go to sleep…

  23. we have this program in the bay area, dogs are trained through the peninsula humane society. in fact, one of michael vick’s former dogs, now named Johnny Justice, is a library dog and a poster child for the program here. :)

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