Classroom canines help develop reading, communication skills

dog-alliance-live-oak-fiRound Rock ISD students at three elementary schools are getting help from man’s best friend through the Austin Dog Alliance.

The Dog Alliance trains canines to help students who may need extra encouragement to improve reading and communication.

Buzz, a deaf, long-haired dachshund, works directly with the hearing impaired students at Live Oak Elementary School, which is home to the Capital Area Regional Day School for the Deaf.

Buzz is trained to do tricks directed by sign language and works with the students practicing language and communication. Live Oak deaf education teacher Carolyn Honish, a 14-year teacher, said dogs add valuable interaction into the classroom for students and adults.

“The dog shows affection and is responsive to the kids, so it’s a huge motivational tool,” Honish said. “Buzz gives them a reason to want to communicate and work on language, which is one of the big goals in the program.”

Each therapy dog goes through extensive training through the Austin Dog Alliance before stepping into a classroom to ensure each student has a positive experience. Honish, who is Buzz’s owner, said the dog rarely barks or disrupts classroom learning.

“These are highly trained dogs that are screened very thoroughly for temperament,” Honish said. “We know for a fact that dogs enjoy people, which is great because they can provide an amazing therapy option for our students.”

Riley, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, is part of the Bow Wow Reading Dog program at Deep Wood, Great Oaks and Live Oak elementary schools. Riley and his owner, Karen Parshall, have been visiting the campuses at least once a week for three years, developing relationships with many of the students.

Through the years, Parshall has seen Riley improve student’s attitudes to the point that they check out special books for their Bow Wow Reading Dog appointments and actively work on improving their literacy, she said.

“The Bow Wow Reading Dog program is encouragement for kids to improve their reading skills,” Parshall said. “Riley is nonjudgmental, so they get to practice reading with him. It’s a special time for them that improves their overall experience in school.”