Page last updated at 09:11 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 10:11 UK

Pupils read tales to shaggy dog

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Sarah Ellis explains how her dog Charlie can help children relax in their reading lessons

Children are reading books to dogs as part of a scheme to improve literacy.

Sarah Ellis takes her dogs Charlie and Saffron to her local primary school and library at Templeton in Pembrokeshire for sessions with youngsters.

She is the first person in Wales to qualify with the Reading Education Assistance Dogs scheme, which is popular in the USA and Canada.

Ms Ellis said reading out loud could be frightening for children but the dogs helped them to relax.

"Dogs can be so therapeutic. They can be therapeutic when you've had a bad day at work," she said.

"You go home, give them a cuddle and it's all better. You can tell them what you like, they don't repeat it and I think it works for the kids who might have a problem with reading.

"I remember from school myself having to stand up and read out loud. This is one to one, sitting in a corner of the library with just me, the dog and the child."

Sarah Ellis
It doesn't matter if the children make mistakes, it's purely just reading practice
Sarah Ellis

Ms Ellis decided to help children with their reading after learning about the scheme, which started in North America in 1999, in a magazine.

"I searched the internet and managed to find the only other UK volunteer at the time and he told me how to go about it," she said.

"They send you a course and you have to do that and send it back for marking."

Ms Ellis makes weekly visits to Templeton Primary School with Charlie, a Shetland sheepdog-cross rescue dog who wears a bandana.

The dog has quickly become a firm favourite with the children.

"The dogs have to be temperament-assessed so it means they have to already be registered therapy dogs," she said.

"The dog has to be very quiet, very docile, very calm, well trained and able to take as much stroking as you're able to throw at him.

"It doesn't matter if the children make mistakes, it's purely just reading practice."

One pupil Josh, six, who reads with Charlie, said: "Once you've been with the dogs for a very long time, you start to get to know what they say. They look at you in a special way."

Ms Ellis' venture, Shaggy Dog Tales, has already attracted interest from other dog owners and she hopes the idea will spread.

The work is voluntary but she does get some sponsorship from a pet food company.

"The course did cost me a little bit and I opted to buy the full uniform, the bandanas for the dogs, but to me it's worth it just to see the look on the children's faces - that's all I need."



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