The WAGS mission is to motivate young people to feel that their individual contribution is an important component towards the development of our society. When provided with the appropriate information and support, a young person can be empowered to gain positive control over their life.
- Provide therapeutic intervention for young people who are having a hard time.
- A proactive, youth-focused re-engagement activity designed to address personal barriers, develop greater resilience, efficiency and social skills, and help the young person to reconnect with learning, family and the community.
- Promote a sense of belonging through an engaging, regular activity
There is magic that happens when a child sits down to read a story to a dog. Dogs are able to create an intensely loving and non-judgmental environment, just with their presence. The child relaxes into this atmosphere and the dog relaxes into the child’s ability to open up.
It’s a very special connection each and every time.
The dogs create a relaxed atmosphere, within which failure is not a possibility and the child can proceed at their own pace. The child is then able to take more risks than s/he normally would with their learning. The dog doesn’t mind, he hasn’t learnt to read well enough to correct anyone!
How can the program change behaviours?
This program can support young people with their reading along with improving their ability to understand and employ specific skills that improve their generalised resilience levels. I have sourced a series set fictional texts, targeted at young and very-young readers, which explore specific resilience skills: emotional awareness & self-regulation; impulse control; optimism; flexible & accurate thinking; empathy; self-efficacy; and connecting with others.
How does it work?
Reading sessions take place in a quiet area of the school grounds where the dog and the child can sit comfortably in the sun or shade, depending on the weather. The dog is tethered so that the reading session stays focused on reading and the dogs stay calm.
The sessions are approximately 20 minutes long. Each child is on-on-one with a dog and a youth worker is available to prompt the young people, often speaking through the dog, such as “Lulu doesn’t understand this bit. Can you explain to her what happened on this page?”
What are the benefits?
Improving the young reader’s skill is the major benefit of the program. But the broader outcomes of therapeutic intervention and life skills acquisition are worthy and important benefits of the activity.