Getting Started

It may seem overwhelming to get a program like this started since it may be different from any other program your library has provided.  Don't worry!  This page will provide you with all the details.

How to find a certified therapy dog

You will want to make sure that the dogs you are using in this program are certified therapy dogs.  They will have been trained and certified to be safe around kids and in public areas like libraries.
  • Check to see if other libraries in your area have a similar program and ask them for the contact information from their dog handler.
  • Check websites like the Delta Society, Therapy Dogs Incorporated and R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) to find a certified therapy dog in your area.
  • Once you find a dog handler with a therapy dog in your area, make sure you explain the program to them so they know all of the details.  Also make sure that you personally meet them and the dog before you begin the program at the library.

Concerns about dogs in the library

  • Because certified therapy dogs are used in reading programs, you shouldn't need to worry about the behavior or cleanliness of the dogs.  To be considered a certified therapy dog, both the handler and the dog must meet certain criteria. The dogs are tested and certified to be safe around children and in public places like libraries, schools, and hospitals.  (Francis) The dog handlers have signed agreements to take on certain responsibilities such as cleaning up after the dogs and taking care of all the dog's needs, such as grooming and yearly checkups with a veterinarian.
  • As extra protection, most therapy dogs come with an insurance policy should anything happen while the dog is in the library.  Be sure to ask the dog handler about this so you know the library would be covered.
  • Most therapy dogs are used to staying on a leash while in a library program.
  • There may be some patrons who simply do not like dogs or who may have allergies.  For situations like this, always have the option to put the dog in a temporary place so others feel comfortable using the library.


In order to optimize student participation in your reading to dogs program, it is essential to effectively inform the public on the program and its details. Listed below are target locations and ideas that you can apply to reach out to potential participants:

The Library:
Print materials, e.g., pamphlets and library newsletters, are a great way of informing your patrons on the program, especially since they can be taken home and serve as reminders. Additionally, colorful posters in the children’s area advertising reading to dogs can provide a quick visual in order to garner public interest. Reserving a page on the library’s website with information on the program is essential, especially because it has the capacity to reach out to patrons who do not consistently frequent the library. You can even introduce the library’s therapy dog through any of the aforementioned publicity formats with photographs and a phrase like, “Meet Rusty the Golden Retriever.” Planning and scheduling library information sessions for patrons is also an option for successful publicity. If it can be arranged, briefly bring the dog to the library to provide patrons with an idea of what to expect in the reading to dogs program and to thus generate potential interest. Make certain to provide a sign-up sheet so that each child has a designated time frame to read to the dog. 

Present local schools with fliers on the program, including library information session dates for interested parents. Also, consider the possibility of visiting classrooms for a brief presentation on the program. If a therapy dog is available and the school permits it, a dog could accompany you for an in-class presentation. Slides and pictures can also be utilized, but the presence of a real dog more accurately creates the library experience. Consider you, the librarian, briefly reading to the dog in front of the class. It may be risky to have a student volunteer, as it is not the normal setting for the program. You do not know the student’s reading level and background, and it could put a child on the spot in front of her/his peers. If you would like to take this route, however, discuss this option with the teacher in advance.

Learning Centers:
Spread the word to local tutoring and reading programs. Provide staff members with pamphlets for students to take home. It is probable that there are some students that need extra assistance with their reading, or, at the least, a boost in confidence levels. The reading to dogs program holds significant potential to provide a real boon to this particular demographic.

Helpful Tips

  • Have kids sign up for a time slot ahead of time. You may want to ask the dog handler how long they prefer to stay in one sitting.  Most programs are between one and two hours which would accommodate between four and eight readers a session.
  • Pick a place that is semi private so the children don't feel as if they are being watched by others.  This will help both the dog and child from being distracted by others who come into the library and may want to pet or play with the dog. However, you will still want the child's caregiver and the dog handler in the same room.
  • Pick a regular spot, and define the area with a special blanket or rug.
  • Some dog handlers do not advise giving the dog treats, so you should check with your dog handler first.
  • Once your program is up and running, you can register your library on the R.E.A.D. website. They can provide additional training and resources for your library.


Best of all, this program is almost free of cost, so you will not need to go through any grant writing processes.  The dog handlers usually volunteer their time as part of their job as a therapy dog handler. There may be some minimal start up costs, including staff time and a few supplies.  But, if you can be creative, these will be minimal.  Here are some suggestions:
  • If you have a teen advisory board, have them make posters either by drawing their favorite dog from a book, or by making posters on the computer.  They could also help you write a letter for the newspaper promoting the program.
  • Ask for donations for a blanket that could be used for the program to define the area.  Or, see if a local club such as the Girl Scouts would be willing to make one.

Sources for More Information
  • Biden, Ann-Marie. "Who's the Four-Legged Librarian? Upland Public Library Trains a Guide Dog." Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children 2.2 (2004): 44-47. LISTA. EBSCO. Web. 31 Oct. 2010.
Although this article focuses on a librarian who trained a service dog, there is an informative section about safety concerns.
The Delta Society is a non-profit organization that connects people and therapy dogs. This is a good place to contact to find a dog in your area.
  • Francis, Alison. "Thursdays with MacGyver: The Benefits of a Library Therapy Dog." Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children 7.2 (2009): 50-52. LISTA. EBSCO.  Web. 31 Oct. 2010.
This article describes the successful therapy dog program at the LaGrange Library in Poughkeepsie NY, and includes sections about how the program started, program set-up and structure,  the author's observations of the program, and feedback the library has received from both children and parents.
  • Hartman, Anna. "Good Dog. Sit. Listen." American Libraries 41.8 (2010): 13. LISTA. EBSCO. Web. 31 Oct. 2010.
This brief article explains some of the basics of therapy dog programs in public libraries, including benefits and information on why therapy dogs are safe for libraries.
R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) is specifically devoted to providing therapy dogs for the use of promoting literacy. You can check this website to find a dog in your area or register your program here.
This website provides very thorough information for anyone who is interested in reading to dogs in a public library setting.
Therapy Dogs Inc. registers therapy dogs and provides other services for their members such as support and insurance.  This is a good place to contact to find a dog in your area.