Teacher's Pet Project Nothing To Bark At

A reading teacher in Pennsylvania has a unique way to help problem students -- she has them read aloud to dogs. And as Rich Schlesinger reports, it seems to work.

Shawn O'Brian is a second grader working like a dog to improve his reading. He could never paw through books and sound out the tough words until he started reading to a friend.

"I think he likes magical treehouse books," Shawn says of his friend. "He likes any kind of book I read."

It's hard to know what Shawn's friend likes because he isn't talking. Buster is part Labrador Retriever. And Shawn is part guinea pig, in a new program to see if dogs can motivate kids to read.

Shawn says he's been reading more, "so I can get ready for Buster."

A pack of dogs regularly visits here at Diebler Elementary School in Perkasie Pennsylvania. This is reading teacher Carol Hurlbrink's pet project.

"The children that I work with are struggling readers, so to motivate them to do something that they don't like, was sort of a challenge," she says.

The dogs are trained by a local organization to visit hospitals and nursing homes, so they're calm enough to bring to school but exciting enough for the students.

"Dogs are more exciting to read to and they're funner," says one kid.

Stories about this program usually have headlines like "Unleashing A Love Of Reading", but educators take this very seriously. Two other schools in this district are trying the program and there's been interest from about 40 states nationwide.

The results here have been encouraging. When Jessica Holt started reading to dogs her mother noticed a change right away.

"She's actually come home and read to our dog a couple of times," says Kim Holt.

Why does it work?

Hurlbrink thinks dogs calm the students and unlike teachers are non-judgmental. The kids have their own ideas.

"You're reading to an animal and you get to pet them, but a teacher, you don't get to pet them," says one kid.

It could be that simple.