Meet Abigail, the Dog Teacher

As Dean Koontz says, “Bonnie Bergin is legendary for her groundbreaking work with dogs.” President of the Assistance Dog Institute, Dr. Bergin originated the service dog concept and movement, and she has been training dogs to assist people with disabilities for more than thirty years. She knows that dogs have an almost limitless capacity to learn.

In the book, Teach Your Dog to Read, Dr. Bergin provides concrete advice on achieving the seemingly impossible: teaching ordinary dogs how to recognize and respond to written commands. With more than fifty instructional photographs, Teach Your Dog to Read is an amazing tool for making your dog smarter and enhancing your capacity to communicate with each other.

Dogs, she writes, decode visual messages, “reading” the symbols of body language and hand signals; they can similarly, therefore, decode the symbols of typed words and stick figures. Her simple method relies on homemade flash cards, delectable treats, and markers (e.g., a clicker) as well positive reinforcement. This is not a book of “stupid dog tricks”; it is a serious training manual easily accessible to the layperson wishing to enhance communication with a dog or to use a dog in therapeutic situations or in school or library “Reading to Dog” programs.

The principal question the book raises—why is it necessary for dogs to read?—is addressed by Bergin’s emphasis on special assistance dogs who need to read signs for the visually impaired and others who rely on a dog’s help in everyday life. As for those who aren’t disabled, Bergen explains that the skills involved can keep the dog away from your turkey dinner and off your favorite chair, while helping owners form an intense emotional bond with their dogs.

Here is a sweet retriever-mix named Abigail who demonstrates nicely how beneficial this reading behavior can be.

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