This story-loving dog is helping Sunderland school children learn to read and write

Nikita Smith, aged 12, with Cally the West Highland White Terrier in the library at Farringdon Community Sports College. Cally is a Pets as Therapy dog which goes into the school as part of the Kennel Club's Bark and Read scheme.
Nikita Smith, aged 12, with Cally the West Highland White Terrier in the library at Farringdon Community Sports College. Cally is a Pets as Therapy dog which goes into the school as part of the Kennel Club's Bark and Read scheme.
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CALLY the Westie loves a good book – especially if Wearside school pupils are reading it to her.

But this is no shaggy dog story, for the popular pooch is part of the Bark and Read Foundation, which aims to improve children’s literacy and reading skills by having a friendly, furry ear to read to.

And the idea has proved a hit at Farringdon Community Sports College where Cally and her owner, Judith Dornan, visit each week to work with pupils, some with special needs and others who a bit behind with their reading skills.

Jane Alexander, a special needs teacher at the Allendale Road school, came across the Bark and Read Foundation, which is supported by The Kennel Club, when she was doing some research on the internet.

“I thought it would be a really good thing to try with some of our groups,” she said.

“At first the pupils thought it might be a bit daft, but once they started meeting with Cally and working with her, they have absolutely loved it.

“The feedback we have had has been fantastic. As soon as everyone sees Cally coming into the yard, they want to say hello and we have had other pupils asking if they can take part in the reading sessions with her.

“She has really helped engage the young people with their reading, getting them into the library and interested in books.”

Cally loves being the centre of attention and being made a fuss of.

However, Jane stressed the sessions are not just a fun activity and Judith, herself an ex-teacher, ensures the time with Cally is structured and the pupils are progressing.

The idea of the scheme is that children can be nervous and stressed when reading to others but reading to dogs, on the other hand, is proven to help develop literacy skills. This is through both the calming effect of the dog and the fact that it will listen to a child read without being critical.

Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko said: “Dogs don’t judge, they don’t laugh or correct if a child makes a mistake.

“In short dogs are simply great listeners, which make all the difference for children who are struggling to read. They caught on to this idea in the United States a long time ago and there is plenty of proof that it works.”

With recent reports showing the UK education sector falling behind the rest of the world, the Kennel Club is urging schools to take up the Bark and Read Foundation initiative.

Caroline said: “We hope that people will support the project by donating money or, if they have a dog, by coming forward and seeing if they could be a potential volunteer so that more children can benefit.”

Anyone who would like more information about the scheme should visit www.thekennelclub.org.uk/barkandread.

Twitter: @sunechoschools

Barking Books:

•Fifty Shades of Greyhound

•A Tail of Two Cities

•David Cockerfield

•The Beagle Has Landed

•Jurassic Bark

•The Girl with the Wagging Tattoo

•Bridget Bones’ Diary

•(Great) Dane and Abel

•The Three Huskyteers

•Paw and Peace

•The Dogfather

•The More the Terrier