Northern Ireland

Meet the dog that's there to listen

Angel, the dog who listens
Image caption Angel, the dog that listens

Dogs have always been hardworking animals. Now they've found a new role at Abbey Primary School in Newtownards.

Angel, the golden Labrador, comes to the school once a week. But it isn't a social visit.

Angel is there to listen to children reading out loud.

It's a role her owner, former teacher Janet Clements, says she's perfect for.

"From she was quite a young dog, just past being a crazy puppy, she had a very placid nature and she loves being with people, especially children," she said.

"I think she even picks up if you're feeling a wee bit down. She'll come over to you and I think she picks up on how the children are feeling as well, which is lovely."

Image caption Angel being read a story by P4 pupil Paige

The project is the brainchild of P3 teacher Susan Nelson.

"It was something I'd heard of and I'd been thinking about for a little while. In this day and age, anything we can do that will improve children's literacy and their enjoyment of reading is something we want to pursue.

"The children that we selected were children whose teachers felt they would benefit from the programme for a variety of reasons.

"Some of them may find reading itself quite difficult, others may lack confidence in reading within a group or reading aloud or we just would like to see them develop their expression when reading."

Over the course of an afternoon, children come in groups of three to read their books to Angel.

"I feel scared reading out to people but I think I'll be okay reading to Angel, because it can give me more confidence in myself," said P5 pupil Anya.

Her P4 friend Paige sums it up: "I don't get nervous at Angel, because she just sits and listens."

'Will not judge'

Principal Jonathan Manning was only too happy to give the idea a chance.

"Research has shown that reading with dogs is a way to help those children who are maybe a bit more reluctant and to give them the confidence of reading to the dog, and the dog obviously will not judge the child for any mistakes that they make," he said.

"It's also a novelty for the children as well."

It may be a novelty but since the project started in November, they are already seeing results.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Angel and her owner, Janet Clements

"They seem just a little bit more self-assured," says Ms Nelson.

"Sometimes children can be very nervous reading aloud but obviously reading to Angel is very comforting, and it's just a lovely environment where they're not intimidated in any way."

The feedback from outside the school gates has also been encouraging.

"The parents of children who've been involved is that they now are much more confident reading at home," says Mr Manning.

"They want to read to their own animals at home because they've done it in school, so it's just a way to develop the pupil's confidence and their self-esteem."

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