By Yoshiko Moriya / Yomiur Shimbun PhotographerJapanese libraries are conducting educational activities in which children read books to dogs specially trained to be attentive listeners.
The activity originated in Utah in 1999 as a form of therapy for children who struggle to read aloud or talk in front of people. Through repeatedly reading to dogs — who never laugh at reading errors — the children gain confidence to read aloud or make conversation.
In Japan, the activity is aimed at familiarizing children with books, rather than providing therapy.
Mukogawa Women’s University in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, has conducted sessions since 2015.
“I hope this activity motivates children to be interested in books from an early age,” said Yasuko Kawasaki, a section chief at the university library. “In Japan, many households can’t have pets due to their housing situation. The activity is appreciated also as an opportunity for children to interact with animals.”
Seventeen children, including those from the university’s kindergarten, participated in a reading session the day I visited. Four dogs from the Kobe therapy dog association, a nonprofit organization in Kobe’s Kita Ward, took on the role of “listener.”
Five-year-old Yusei Iwata spent about 10 minutes reading two of his favorite picture books to a toy poodle named Snow.
“It was difficult to get in a good position so the dog could see [pictures] while I was reading,” Iwata said. “The dog sometimes looked away but was nodding, too.”
The Mitaka City Library in Tokyo has regularly held a workshop called “Wan!dafuru dokusho taiken” (Wonderful reading experience) since July 2016.
The library has received positive feedback from the parents of participating children, including comments like, “My child had a low attention span and couldn’t finish reading at home, but he could read to the very end with the dog.” The library has also received various inquiries and requests to observe the activity. The read-to-a-dog activity looks set to gain popularity throughout the country.Speech