Meet my dog, Jazzi. She helps kids learn to read. She’s what’s known as a Tail-Waggin’ Tutor. Jazzi is a 2-year-old Pomeranian. She is smart, extremely obedient, gentle, calm, and most of all exceptionally sweet. She is also unbelievably childlike in her manner. In the comfort of her own home, she is a lap-hopper and an ear-licker. She is the ideal dog for helping kids.
To help get her there, when Jazzi was 6 months old, I trained her to be a therapy dog. To qualify a dog must be at least a year old. I already had this experience with my other dog in this same field, so training her myself was easy. When Jazzi’s day came to take her Canine Good Citizen test, I got her tested as a therapy dog at the same time. During the exam, I was more nervous than she was; I had to keep reminding myself not to transmit my nervousness down the leash to her. But Jazzi had no problem passing both her Therapy Dogs International and CGC tests. I am now her personal handler and we are a team. She is so docile, and such a sweet pup. The instructor testing her wrote that very comment on her test paper. (I was not surprised.)
When I received Jazzi’s TDI badge, tag, and papers, I read an article about how certified therapy dogs can help children enhance their reading skills. They called them Tail-Waggin’ Tutors. I knew Jazzi would be a perfect candidate for this adventure.
Soon we met a group of retired teachers who enjoy doing this type of therapy with their dogs; they like that it keeps them in touch with students. Together, we visit some of the schools and libraries in our area. Generally, the students who participate range in age from kindergaren to third grade. Most of the other therapy dogs in the group are much larger than Jazzi, and her small size makes her an instant hit with the all the students. To see their eyes light up when we walk into the room is a reward beyond words.
To give the students a better understanding of the dogs before we begin, we instruct them how to approach any dog in a positive way. Most students seem very comfortable and relaxed showing off their reading skills to Jazzi, but some are cautious. I let them introduce themselves to her first. She gets a pat on the head by the hesitant student, she gives them her sweet doggie smile, and they are instant friends.
I lay her blanket on the floor in front of the student, and then I sit in a chair, holding the leash. Jazzi sits on her blanket waiting for each student to come up and read. She listens patiently to every story. As a handler I often provide assistance with some of the words the students have difficulty pronouncing.
When we started in this program, I was surprised to see most of the students chose stories about other animals to read to her. I wonder whether they believe that by picking an animal story Jazzi will be more interested in listening to them reading.
When they are done reading, Jazzi gives them a high-five and I reward them with a Jazzi sticker (designed by my talented Dogster friend Mer). Before leaving the classroom I provide the teacher with Jazzi’s Dogster page to share with the students (at her discretion) in the future. I am so excited about Tail-Waggin’ Tutors; TDI has a great program to bond animals and children together. Lending a helping paw is what it is all about.
Our school schedule varies from a set day once a month to on-call basis. Jazzi and I would like to go more often, but it is hard to schedule a whole group of dogs and their handlers to be available when the school calls to schedule a visit. At the libraries we may be scheduled for a program set on Saturday mornings. In the meantime, we visit nursing homes. We always approach every patient with our greeting and ask their permission to visit before entering their rooms. We bring joy to so many, and smiles to those who may have forgotten how.
Thank you for letting me share Jazzi’s story with you. Since I spend so much time with my dogs, and enjoy sharing smiles on Dogster, my kids tell all their friends that “momma has gone to the dogs.” At the age of 66, I have learned that when life’s troubles get you down, creating smiles can be the best medicine, and that sharing your joy with others is very rewarding.