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It  B.A.R.K.S.! 

Bonding Animals, Reading, Kids, & Safety©

Therapy Dogs helping Children & Adults with Reading, Speech Disabilities, Pet Safety & Care of a Pet


B.A.R.K.S.    FAQ'S


What is B.A.R.K.S.?

Helping Paws is a therapy-assistance dog organization.  We are not a dog training business.  We do not offer general obedience training to the general population.  Our only goal is to train dogs and their owners to do therapy-assistance work within the community.  At the moment we only have dogs but hope to add other species of animals shortly –like cats, rabbits, etc.

Helping Paws B. A. R. K. S©   is a program that was started as a reading with dogs program at a Durham County elementary school in 2001-2002 school year with the assistance of Helping Paws member, Amy Parsons--the school’s psychologist --and her fur-therapist, Beamer.  We developed the program after seeing a TV documentary on how schools in Israel were using small pets with great to success to improve their students learning in all subjects.  Ms. Parsons also collaborated with InterMountain Therapy Animals who were developing their R.E.A.D. program at the same time.  Therefore the reading part of the two programs is very similar.

The mission of Helping Paws B.A.R.K.S© program is to help people, both children and adults, to develop a life-long love for reading and learning, better inter-personal communication skills, pet safety, and the proper care of their personal pets.

How often do they work together?

In the B.A.R.K.S school program, the children who participate are selected by their teachers or reading specialist. The child may be an excellent student but may extremely shy and self-conscious or the child may need additional help with reading and other learning skills.  We also work with autistic children.  The children are told they have been selected to help the dog learn to read -which is very true.  One of the newest techniques in training assistance-service dogs is teaching them to read up to 25-30 words or more and for them to be able to understand those words in short written sentences.

We then assign a B.A.R.K.S Reading Assistance team (dog and its owner/handler) to each child.  That B.A.R.K.S team usually works with the same child once a week for 8-12 weeks so that a more trusted and secure relationship evolves.  At the end of that 8-12 weeks we usually rotate the B.A.R.K.S team so the child does not become overly attached to one dog.  In some cases, the teacher may feel that the student needs more stability, so the same B.A.R.K.S team will work with the student all year long.  The B.A.R.K.S program is designed to be flexible so we can adjust to the students needs.

Each child spends between a half-hour to an hour with the dog and handler -a few minutes getting acquainted and comfortable, time reading, then a few minutes at the end for tricks and treats and less formal play. Depending on the age and physical limitations of the dog’s handler, they all sit together on the floor on large pads.  The dog sits or lies by the child, usually with the child usually stroking the dog while they read.  At the end of each reading session the student get a badge with the dog’s picture. If the student has done exceptionally well he may also get a “great job” certificate.

To foster reading at home and to continue the joy of learning we reward the students at the end of each 10 weeks.  At the beginning of each 10 weeks, we give the student two doggie bookmarks with his dog’s picture on it. One bookmark stays in the student’s folder and one is sent home with the student.  On the back of the bookmarks are 10 blocks.  Every time the student has a reading session at school, they get to put a sticker of  their B.A.R.K.S dog in a space.  Every time they read at least 30 minutes at home with an adult or older sibling, the parent or legal guardian gives then a check mark.  Once the 10 spaces are filled, the students get to exchange the bookmark for a new book which they get to select from the Helping Paws "Adventures in Reading" treasure box.  That book then receives a bookplate with the student’s name, a picture of the student’s B.A.R.K.S dog, a note from the dog and its handler, and is “pawtographed” with the dog. The students will receive their final books at the end of the year celebrations/graduations where the parents get to watch the students help the dogs with the book “signing”.

How have the children reacted to working with the dogs?

The response has been wonderful!  The children’s eyes light up every time their see their dog. They hug and kiss their dog and show the dog off to their friends and peers.  They are really proud they were chosen to help the dogs learn to read.  They will come to their B.A.R.K.S sessions instead of attending parties or other school events, they will tell the dogs about their pets at home, and most of time they ask for more time to read with the dogs.  The children love the dogs so much that we have even been successfully able to use the dogs in special behavioral modification programs. 

How can volunteers get their dogs involved? What type of training/requirements do you have for the dogs/owners?

All of Helping Paws therapy-assistance dogs and their owners receive 5-6 months of obedience and therapy-assistance animal training. During this time they are observed by an animal behaviorist, behavioral consultant or canine psychologist many times. They are tested many times –both in the classroom and in facilities, they are certified, and they are insured.  Then, Helping Paws B.A.R.K.S dogs have additional assistance dog training so they can retrieve books, help turn pages, read with the children, or whine on cue when the child makes a mistake.  This last one allows the handler to stop the reading a say something like, “Rita wants to know how to pronounce that word correctly”.  The B.A.R.K.S dogs are also starting to learn to read real words. All of Helping Paws therapy dogs and B.A.R.K.S dogs are constantly evaluated on a monthly basis by our Helping Paws Facility Directors.
The first step is for an owner to make an honest self-appraisal of their dog’s temperament and health.  Is the dog an indoor dog and disease free? Do they enjoy meeting people and being touched?  Do they inspire confidence and trust in the people around them?  Are they calm, reliable?  Not afraid of loud, unexpected, and unusual noises?  Obedient?  Patient? Well groomed? Do not bite or jump up?  Do not bark a lot? Do not pull on their leashes or drag the owner around?  Enjoy children?  Like curling up on the floor or bed with children and adults? Pay attention to the owner?  Does your dog work well with other dogs, cats, and animals? Is the dog 1-year old?  Are all vaccinations and/or titers up-to-date?

For the owner:  Do you enjoy spending time with your dog or other pets?  Are you willing to learn new techniques for training your dog?  Can you work one hour per week during regular schools hours?  If you work, will your company let you take time off for a couple of hours one day week to work in the B.A.R.K.S program?  Can you commit to a year long school program one hour per week? Are you reliable? Do you like children?  Are you patient? Are you willing to attend training classes one day a week for 6 months then one day per month after?  For people interested in doing therapy dog work but not the B.A.R.K.S program, can you commit to making at least one therapy dog visit per month?

If you can answer YES to all of these questions then please contact Helping Paws for more information on our classes and therapy-assistance dog work.

Is there anything the public can do to help?

In order to expand the B.A.R.K.S program to other schools on our waiting list we need people with dogs who can meet the above requirements.

As you can imagine, with the large number of new books we are giving to the students, approximately150 this school year, plus all of the printing for bookmarks, bookplates, and “I read with” stickers, the B.A.R.K.S program is very expensive for Helping Paws to maintain. We could really use donations of new books for K-6 grades.

We are in desperate need of a new training facility.  For the past three years, we have been training in Dorothea Dix’s Haywood Gym.  Dorothea Dix Hospital donated the use of this space because of the large number of therapy dog visits our teams make to the hospital and other care facilities in the Wake, Durham, Orange, Johnston, and Graham County areas.  In November, the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) took over the management of Haywood Gym from Dorothea Dix as part of the movement for closing Dorothea Dix in 2008.  In December, DHHS canceled our use of the gym because they plan to convert it to a health spa for the DHHS employees working on the Dix campus.

Lincoln Road Elementary School


Denise Hutson & Jeani Gray l, ea


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