A 2 year-old Labrador who knows how to read has been going to school to help kids learn.
Fernie, a chocolate Labrador Retriever, is an educational assistance dog and is being trained as a part of a national scheme called Dogs Helping Kids in the United Kingdom.
The awesome Labrador was introduced to classes at Winford Primary School to give young children motivation and confidence.
Since starting at the school,Fernie has been taught to read – or recognize –words on four flashcards.
According to the dog’s owner, Nik Gardner, Fernie can read the words “sit”, “down”, “roll over” and “spin” and with further training the Lab could learn up to 20 more words.
“For his initial training I used the clicker technique, where the dog learns to associate a treat with the distinctive sound made by a clicker when he responds correctly to a command,” Fernie told the SWNS. “Then, while still using the clicker technique, I started showing him simple commands on a flashcard – which he recognizes as a shape – whilst giving him the spoken command, so he learned to associate the two.”
Nik eventually stopped the spoken commands and only used the flashcards because the smart Lab had learned to “read” them.He has been training Fernie since he was a puppy. The Lab has also been going to work with Nik every day since he was 5 months-old.
“If children can see that the dog can read the flash cards, then they can do it too – so it’s a huge motivation for them,” Nik said.
Aside from being a great motivation, the friendly dog snuggles up for a story with students –giving them extra confidence.
Dogs Helping Kids is a charity that uses highly-trained dogs to teach children non-violence, empathy and trust.
Research shows dogs can improve children’s literacy, behavior and self-esteem. The company of dogs also teaches them to respect and care for animals.
“We find he has a very positive effect on children’s learning,” Nik said. “For example, after he sits with pupils to listen to them read – which the children love, because they don’t feel ‘judged’ – they get to do some training with him and reward him with a treat.”
The Lab also senses when a child is nervous.
“He’s also on hand for children who might feel nervous or anxious during the school day – a few minutes of cuddles really helps to cheer them up,” Nik shared.
Fernie feels like he’s one of the students himself. He also gets to enjoy a lunch time walk with his owner and pupils while they learn road safety skills.
“Being able to read is only a small part of what Fernie brings to the school,” said Nik. “The parents think he’s great, and the children love him. He’s a real star.”