There’s this theory out there ... that kids who have trouble reading learn faster and more effectively when they’re asked to practice their skills on their pets — dogs, in particular. Hence the R.E.A.D. Therapy Dog Program in which "reading education assistance dogs" are employed to enhance literacy skills.

Before you bring up the cat discrimination thing (I have not forgotten the lessons of yesterday’s post), let me head you off. Seeing as a cat will almost certainly give a child a chilly stare just before contemptuously skulking off to find a quieter plot of indoor real estate, I can understand why felines have been excluded from this reading program. I mean, some kids have sensitive souls a cat might easily trample.

Enter the dog and the very reason this practice works. As you assume the manner of speaking in soothing, happy tones, a dog will almost always stop and look at you with a longing sort of adoration. No matter whether you’re reading the telephone book, or The Exorcist. Rapt attention is a common canine response to human prattle (though it never hurts to keep a treat taped to the child’s forehead — just in case).

I don’t know about you, but when I read about this program, I knew instantly it had legs. The why and the how of it all made instant sense. Apart from my confusion over why a dog would need to be trained and certified to perform this basic function, the only problem I couldn’t personally get past — once faced with a dog and a child and a need to put this concept immediately to the test — was the question of what to read to a dog.

Assuming the animal theme is a near-requirement, and classics generally being a good policy, I got to wondering which animal classic might be best: Black Beauty or Old Yeller? Or will the inevitable crying jag interfere with the project’s success? (Forget The Red Pony, then. That one’s a near-suicidal romp through animal-lover hell, if you ask me.) Do you think The Black Stallion is an easy enough read? Is Charlotte’s Web too depressing?

After thinking about this for a couple of days earlier this week, in advance of this post, I wondered if I might be overthinking this.

Perhaps the most entertaining stories possible, regardless of animal characters or classic status, is just the thing for kids needing to practice their reading skills in front of an easy, non-judgmental audience.

That’s what came to mind when the long-anticipated third and final book in the Hunger Games series landed in my Kindle first thing Tuesday morning (btw, this is perhaps the geekiest way to pre-purchase a book, ever).

But sadly, though I’ve been dying to read the damn thing for over a year (will Katniss lead the revolution?), by Wednesday I had not yet gotten a chance to crack its virtual binding. My schedule has been all about back-to-back writing assignments, the kind that require way too much mental energy to do anything at all beyond stare at the screen with intensity while cutting and pasting paragraphs back and forth in the earnest expectation of some shard of genuine enlightenment.

So you know from reading this that it was not meant to be. Not my week to write with any kind of genius. Which is why I finally relented and spent a thundery couple of hours [very] early yesterday A.M. keeping my dogs’ lightning-jangled nerves steady with an enthusiastic rendition of Mockingjay’s introductory chapters.

What to read is clearly not the problem. Great books for kids and dogs don’t have to be scripted classics built around a cadre of animal characters. They just have to be fun.

Now it’s your turn: What book have you recently read (or imminently anticipate enjoying) that you would LOVE to read to your dogs?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: "A book. A dog. A lovely Sunday afternoon!" by kiwikewlio