Chris Sprague tells the story of how his Stabyhoun became a Reading Therapy Dog for children in America….

Chance at work

Chance at work

Ever since I was in my 20s, I knew I wanted to work with children. We all know how smart our Stabys are, so I really put Chance through his paces. When I retired from 25 years of Inn keeping, Chance and I went to work.

We had already started with general obedience training (he was an Inn dog after all and needed to be well behaved to become the ‘perfect’ greeter). We took the Canine Good Citizen test, which he passed, of course. Then the training began for becoming certified with Therapy Dogs International, and in June 2014, he passed the exam.

I would say that the most important traits to becoming a therapy dog is that the dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease with strangers. They provide unconditional acceptance and never fail to put smiles on the faces of both children and adults. They must enjoy human contact and excessive petting! And they must be comfortable staying in one place for a while.

That summer, after learning about therapy dogs being used with children learning to read, I was intrigued and started my research. I quickly realised it would be a great fit for Chance, who just adores children, and for me.

After contacting the Principal of our local elementary school to outline my program, and through a collaboration with the school library and several classroom teachers, the new program was launched.

For 90 minutes each week, I sat on a special ‘alphabet’ comforter with Chance. He wears a red bandana with a therapy dog badge around his neck, and we listen while five second graders read picture books aloud. The children show pictures to Chance, and sometimes explain what words mean, in case he doesn’t understand.

Chance, the reading therapy Stabyhoun

Chance, the reading therapy Stabyhoun

An especially strong bond developed between Chance and those students. They greeted Chance with smiles and pats, prompting a lot of tail wagging and an occasional lick on the cheek. The youngsters read for 20 minutes at a time and then reward Chance with a nice dog treat for being such a kind and patient listener.

For me, the amazing part is that once you put on his red scarf, Chance knows he’s working. Once we start, he doesn’t get up, he doesn’t move. He is really there listening. While the children are reading, they’re giving Chance a pat or giving him a snuggle and showing him things; really including him in what they’re doing.

I’ve watched these kids get more comfortable. They don’t come in shy anymore. They are able to relax and concentrate, and they’re reading with greater confidence. Their personalities have blossomed in the year they have spent with Chance. Their development has been truly profound.

During summer 2015, this remarkable Stabyhoun was part of PAWS reading program at the Patten Library in Bath, Maine. Chance has really found his calling (well, maybe both of us have) – he and I are over the moon, filled with gratitude for the role we are allowed to play in these children’s lives.

Chance completed his summer ‘job’ and started back at Nobleboro Central School in September 2015. He now has five new children reading to him.