Reading Aloud Helps Dogs Recover From Trauma

Maya Marin

Looking to make a big difference in the life of a traumatized dog? Read him or her a story. That's exactly what volunteers participating in ASPCA's Storytelling Program in New York City do—and, apparently, it’s working.


Violet, a two-year-old pit bull who arrived at ASPCA's Animal Recovery Center (ARC), was,  according to, so "paralyzed with fear that she couldn't even stand up," let alone allow people to touch her. After just two months in the reading program, Violet became comfortable with medical examinations and routine handling.

The toughest pooches for the ASPCA to place with families are those with mental trauma and improper socialization with humans. Amazingly, storytelling has proven a safe and effective "hands-off" way to overcome these challenges.

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Volunteers bring reading material of their choice--anything from the daily paper to John Le Carre--and read aloud to the dogs through small holes in the glass walls of their kennels. The sessions last about 20 minutes, and the behavioral changes that volunteers notice within this brief time span can be astounding.

Victoria Wells, ASPCA's manager of behavior and training, told the New York Times, “In the beginning of the session, the dog might be in the back of their kennel cowering, and then they move forward, lie down, relax; their tail might wag.”

For the dog lover who also loves a good read, this volunteering opportunity is a clear win-win.

To volunteer for the program in NYC, visit this link. If not, why not start a similar program at your local shelter? For dogs with milder issues, there are programs that pair children practicing their reading skills with shelter dogs.


Read and Relax Kennel Enrichment Program (PDF)

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