Dogs help children read in Lithuania library

Vilnius (AFP) –


Mona, a black flat-coated retriever, listens intently to eight-year-old Urte as she reads aloud from a children's book while they sit on a red pillow in Lithuania's grand national library in Vilnius.

Mona and her side-kick, a golden retriever named Gongas, are therapy dogs trained to give struggling young readers the positive attention and confidence boost that teachers sometimes fail to provide.

"While reading to a dog a kid isn't stressed; he's relaxed because nobody will point out his mistakes or tell him to re-read a passage," programme coordinator Viktorija Pukenaite told AFP.

Unlike traditional lessons in schools where teachers are in charge, children are in full control of the 15-minute reading therapy sessions with the dogs, which are carefully selected using special tests.

Several dozen children aged four to 12 attend dog reading therapy courses each week in Lithuania.

The eurozone state of 2.8 million people launched the courses last year as a novel way of maintaining its 100-percent literacy rate for citizens over 15 years of age.

"For kids, the most important thing is that they get encouragement rather than evaluation," said Rasa Kardaite Velyviene, a psychologist who is in charge of Mona.

"Kids develop a relationship with a dog -- they can greet a dog, pat or cuddle him if they begin to struggle while reading," she added.