Our Reading Lives

PAWS to Read: Reduce Stress & Anxiety by Reading to Dogs

Lucas Maxwell


Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

This past week in the library has been great. No, J.K. Rowling did not accept my invitation to come to the library in exchange for having our most popular photocopier named after her.

It was great because we had Mabel the therapy dog visiting with students at different points each day.

Mabel has been visiting us because she is part of a new program I am launching called PAWS to Read.

PAWS to Read

Students read to Mabel for twenty to thirty minute periods. No, I have not gone insane: reading to dogs aloud has recently been lauded as a great way to reduce the stress and anxiety that a lot of students experience when asked to read aloud in class. As the article I linked to earlier explains, even petting a dog can lower your blood pressure.

Mabel does not judge or criticize the students, she doesn’t tell them they are pronouncing words wrong. No, Mabel doesn’t do any of these things. She just sits quietly and listens. Occasionally she noses around just to make sure there aren’t any treats lying around (we have a lot of treats for Mabel) that she might have missed.

PAWS to Read

Yes, pronouncing words correctly is important, but the students must have confidence to read at all before they can take that step.

Watching the students read aloud to Mabel is stress-reducing in itself. I’ve made sure that the library is completely empty during these times and nobody is allowed in so they can’t disturb the awesomeness that is the PAWS to Read program.

I’ve also cleared Mabel’s schedule for some of our older students, who are currently suffering from exam stress. They aren’t necessarily reading to her, they are simply hanging out and talking to her while they eat their lunch.

PAWS to Read

There is evidence floating around out there that says dogs can sense our emotions and react accordingly. Spending a few days with Mabel, I really believe this to be true.

It’s been one of the best programs I’ve been a part of and am grateful to the teacher who has allowed Mabel to grace our library this week.

My goal is to make this program a permanent one. We have many treats available and I think Mabel will be cool with that.