Therapy Dogs help children practice reading at local library

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JEFFERSON CITY - A tutoring program featuring dogs is encouraging children to practice reading.

The Tail Waggin' Tutors reading program takes place at libraries nationwide, and is run by Therapy Dogs International.

The Tail Waggin' Tutors program made an appearance at the Missouri River Regional Library Tuesday, and will continue hosting sessions at different times throughout future months.

According to Therapy Dogs International (TDI), the main objective is to provide a relaxed and "dog-friendly" atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading.

TDI Member Jennifer Winkelman is a therapy dog owner and evaluator in the Tail Waggin' Tutors program.

Winkelman said she wanted to help bring the Tail Waggin' Tutors program to the Missouri River Regional Library because of her children's experience with the program when they were younger.

"I knew about the program before we had a dog," Winkelman said. "We actually went and did the program somewhere else, and they enjoyed it a lot, but it definitely inspired them and helped them pick up a book."

According to TDI, children who have been involved with the Tail Waggin' Tutors program have seen improved reading scores in school.

Winkelman said the program not only helps the reading of children, but also helps children that fear dogs.

"Some children are scared of the dog," Winkelman said. "And so by having exposure to a therapy dog, it helps them. If they had a bad experience, maybe they were bitten before, not all dogs bite, so it becomes a real, positive experience in that way with the exposure to the dogs. "

Winkelman said she hopes to see more people get certified with a therapy dog.

She said many people do not know the benefits of the therapy dog programs and have a misconception about what types of dogs can be involved.

"A lot of people think therapy dogs have to be full-bred dogs, but we have three therapy dogs in our household and they are all mixes," Winkelman said. "Two of them are from shelters, one of them is from off the highway, and so therapy dogs don't have to full-bred dogs to get adopted from shelters. They just have to be trained and loved, and have the temperament required to be a therapy dog."

Winkelman said she plans on being at the Missouri River Regional Library on June 11 for any children interested in participating in the Tail Waggin' Tutors Program.

The Therapy Dogs International website has more information on the program.

(Photos courtesy of Jennifer Winkelman.)