Tell Me About It: Children Reading to Dogs for PAWS to Read

A unique and special youth literacy program

by Peggy Denman & Nancy Vanstone

Like other parents seeking new ways to get your child reading, you may have spotted in our branches a poster with a child reading to a dog, or maybe you heard from a friend or family member about a reading program with dogs. Either way, you are most likely wondering—what is thePAWS to Read (PTR)® program all about?

We are so pleased to share all the details with you.

Before attending PAWS, Emma wasn’t too interested in reading, and read because she had to. Now she sees more pleasure and enjoyment in reading…the best thing for Emma is reading to the ‘big dog’ Roc.

Pairing children with dogs

At the Library, we know plenty of children who need extra support with their reading—and we know lots of dogs who love listening to children read. PAWS to Read is the perfect match. Children are paired with a certified therapy dog and given time to interact one on one. They read aloud to their dog in a cozy, quiet place in the library.

The therapy dog is always accompanied by their volunteer handler, usually the dog’s owner, to ensure everyone feels comfortable. Our PAWS to Read dogs are always great listeners and they are never judgmental. Books are carefully selected by Library staff based on the child’s interests, and a typical session is 25 minutes, once a week for five weeks.

When I asked Decosta about PAWS to Read, he said with great pride that he reads to a dog called Zorro, and that Zorro likes it when he reads to him.

Where do the dogs come from?

PAWS to Read dogs are extraordinary. They are a part of a national reading therapy dog program designed by Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) for children in Grades 1-5 as part of their therapy pet service programs across Canada. TPOC recruits, evaluates, trains, certifies, and insures trained therapy dogs and volunteer handlers (teams) to spend reading time with children. Therapy dog handlers are also trained to be helpful in facilitating reading.

In Halifax, local dogs have been helping children read for over 15 years through a longtime partnership between the Library and the Halifax Team of TPOC. The program has been paused due to the pandemic since early 2020. However, we are thrilled to announce it will resume at selected branches, beginning April 2023.

Kecia had a very positive experience with Tiggi the dog. In fact, it is the first time her fear of dogs has dropped off. Something about Tiggi makes her completely comfortable and feeling safe.

What can I expect for my child?

You can expect many pawsitive benefits to participating in the PAWS to Read program. Parents and caregivers often report increased overall confidence, motivation to read more regularly, improved outcomes with reading, and joy in getting to visit with a friendly dog—just to name a few.

Could my dog be a PAWS to Read dog?

TPOC is always looking for new teams of dogs and handlers, and they can answer any questions you might have about volunteering. Please contact Nancy Vanstone at or Linda Bishop at for more information on becoming a Therapeutic Paws of Canada volunteer.

How does my child sign up?

Now that you know what Paws to Read® is all about, we bet you’re interested in finding out where to sign up! Visit our information page to see which branches offer this program, how to sign up, or add your name to the waiting list. New locations are added as news teams become available, so if you don’t see your preferred branch listed, please check back often.