Monday, October 5, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part III

Do you read to your dog? If you don't, Phoebe B. Dackel would like a word with you.

"You probably know of the good work dogs do with kids who read to us. It's therapeutic. The youngsters gain confidence and benefit in countless other ways from the presence of the canine listener, who is unfailingly described as nonjudgmental (and who doesn't need some of that now and then). Maybe you're not a kid with reading problems. Maybe you don't lack confidence. I'll bet you a week's worth of Margot's homemade dog biscuits that something's bugging you. Try some of the salve we reader-dogs apply to those kids. Read to us!

"You may be familiar with some of the studies that report how many human-language words we dogs recognize and, when it suits us, respond to as you intend us to. Kudos to the researchers, and may they all keep -- or develop -- a sense of humor. We dogs aren't dependent on your words, but we add them to our repertoire because we love you and we're curious. You bring us into your homes, and many homes are as full of words as books are. Bring us into more of your world. When you read to us we hear more than words. We know how you feel about them, how those words affect you. The more we know about you, the better dogs we can be.

"Reading together is another bridge between us. We love your voices, which convey more than words and their messages. Share your discoveries and puzzlements. Introduce us to your best book friends, the characters that your voices embody so well we just might be able to sniff them off the shelves if you misplace the books they live in. We love your laughter. If you're moved to tears, we'll comfort you. When you come to the scary parts, we'll reassure you. If it's a scary scary story, we can walk it off later and celebrate our escape from vampires or the stock market report with a treat or a romp.

"Can't even step onto the bridge, much less reach the other side? Think of reading to dogs as a new form of entertainment, a new game, a novelty. The television listings will do for starters. Watch our expressions and body language. You may find your read-to dog's reactions, and your responses to those reactions, add to the pleasure of reading. From the pleasure of reading, don't you derive solace, maybe a smile or two, some insight, a lot of super-escapism? Share these with the dogs who love you.

"My reactions to Margot's reading are noted in my journal. It warms this hound's heart to see how she's capable of learning from those observations. We get closer every time we curl up with a book.

"I wonder what we'll read today? I'll let you know."