Tail Waggin' Tutor Helps Kids Relax into Reading Enthusiastically

Fredo getting his outdoors time before tutoring

Fredo hangs his shingle at the library

By Alison Rooney

For those new to reading, sounding words aloud is a path to deciphering the code of letters, blends and achieving greater fluency.  Often children feel put on-the-spot when called upon in class, or even sitting with a parent looking on and correcting valiant attempts. Fredo, a reading tutor, takes the opposite approach. He doesn’t catch himself supplying a word before the child is able to work it out.  He doesn’t insist on the child’s completing the book if the reader is struggling.  He doesn’t interrupt the best part, being excitedly read, to take a phone call or turn the kettle off. Fredo has none of those unstoppable parental instincts, because Fredo is a 4-year-old Standard Schnauzer and a very well-trained therapy dog. Under the guidance of his owner, Cold Spring’s Carol Canfield, Fredo has been hanging his therapy practice shingle at the Desmond-Fish Library where, once a month, he is indeed, the “tail waggin’ tutor.”

Carol Canfield with Fredo, waiting for the readers

Part of a nationwide program, devised by the non-profit, volunteer group Therapy Dogs International, (TDI), per their description, the “main objective of this program is to provide a relaxed and ‘dog-friendly’ atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading. Many of the children chosen for this program have difficulties reading. They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates.  By sitting down next to a dog and reading to the dog, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on the reading. Reading improves because the child is practicing the skill of reading, building self-esteem, and associating reading with something pleasant.”

Carol Canfield came to the program through her trainer, Pat Tetrault of Top-Notch Dog Training, based in Wappingers Falls, which she has used for years.  She wanted to get Fredo certified as an American Kennel Club (AKC) “Canine Good Citizen (CGC).”  Started in 1989, the CGC Program is designed to reward dogs who have “good manners at home and in the community.” It is a two-part program that stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs. After assessing Fredo’s suitability, he progressed to certification as a Therapy Dog, which is a prerequisite to CGC certification.  Therapy dog certification requires at least eight sessions in order for approval to be given.  Aside from a general temperament evaluation and display of response to normal commands, the training includes teams of people coming through on wheelchairs and crutches, walking through groups of people, noise distractions and exercises such as having objects dropped intentionally on the floor to see that no barking or growling occurs. As of 2009, over 21,000 owner-dog teams were registered with TDI as certified to provide therapy dog services.

Jordan reads his book to Fredo, Carol and Lily

Canfield, who is a retired investment banker, originally came to Philipstown as a week-ender.  Now based here year-round, she wished to give back to the community.  She has found the perfect way to do this, with Fredo.  In addition to once-a-month visits to the Desmond-Fish Library, she and Fredo visit Hudson Valley Hospital weekly, going from room to room along with a “walker,” Cold Spring’s Ellen Pillersdorf, who asks patients if they’d like a canine visitor first  to cheer them up. Canfield says as most people are sick and don’t have much enjoyment in the hospital, as soon as the dog is brought in, they really respond.

Canfield also visits the Morningside Manor Nursing Home once a month, where Fredo interacts with the residents, bringing them some cheer. He’ll sit with them in the kitchen or watch television with them while they pet him and tell him he needs a shave!  Canfield has been told by the staff there that some of the residents are withdrawn and don’t smile until Fredo arrives.

Canfield had rescue dogs while growing up, but then decided she wanted a purebred with a specific temperament.  After reading the AKC manual “cover to cover” she discovered Standard Schnauzers, which are described as having “a brain like a human’s.”  She has been sticking to the breed for some time now, and in addition to Fredo, she has Lou, who is 15 and Sam, a mere 18 months old, and future therapy dog candidate.  She describes their “likes” as “working, Milkbones, and napping.”  The working component is key, as this is a breed which needs to have a purpose.  Not to be confused with the Giant Schnauzers who are “more macho,” says Canfield, or the more common Miniature Schnauzers, “hate to say it, but they’re more yappy,” the 35-50 pound Standards are the prototype for Schnauzers, and are frequently used as “hearing dogs, in search and rescue (using ‘air-scent’ rather than ground-scent’ abilities), and in bomb detection, as well as for companionship.

When Canfield called Desmond-Fish Library Director Carol Donick to offer her services, it was happy serendipity, as Donick had just been reading about the Tail Waggin’ Tutor program, and had decided to bring it to the Library.  Going strong for several months now, the program has lots of repeat visitors, including, at the session Philipstown.info observed, Lily, a second-grader from Garrison, who was back for the third time, this time bringing her little brother, Jordan who was reading with Fredo for the first time.

Lily reading to Fredo and friend

Both Lily and Jordan differed from some Tail Waggin’ Tutor participants in that both are actually very strong readers.  The benefit to them was obviously the enjoyment they were experiencing by reading to Fredo.  In a private room in the rear of the library, Fredo was ensconced on small couch, waiting to be read to.  Lily read first, and she brought along another friend, a Siberian Husky-like stuffed animal toy, which she placed next to Fredo.  Obviously choosing a book she felt Fredo might be interested in, Lily proceeded to read, with gusto, a story about a Miniature Schnauzer.  Lily’s mom, Denise Albertson, said that Lily always tried to pick out dog books to read.  Jordan followed, and regaled Fredo with a book involving homonyms, reading splendidly for a kindergartener. Albertson said that coming to Tail Waggin’ Tutors helps “to encourage them to read.  They look forward to reading after they come and they talk about it excitedly until the next session.”

Throughout the session, Canfield provided assistance on words only when asked, and displayed her edicts of “no criticism, no correcting.” She has observed that children like to read while petting the dog at the same time; also they’ll often show pictures to the dog.  Lily did both of these things. Fredo remained quiet and companionable the entire time, which in this instance consisted of two 15-minute sessions.

Tail Waggin’ Tutors takes place on the second Thursday of each month, from 4 to 6 p.m. with 15-minute time slots available per child.  The program is free of charge, but reservations are needed: call 845-424-3020, as the slots often fill up quickly. You can reserve a slot for up to two months in advance. People who have not made a reservation will be accommodated if time permits. The library’s description states: Standard Schnauzer, and review rules on how to interact with dogs. She will stay with the dog and the child. A parent must sign a parental release form for each child. Children should be between the ages of seven and ten, although younger children may be accommodated if their parent stays with them. The library has an ample supply of books the children can pick to read from, or they can bring their own. Each participating child will receive a special bookmark, which they can use to hold their place in the book until they come back to read to the dog again next month. More information may be found at http://dfl.highlands.com/
Photos by A. Rooney


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5 thoughts on “Tail Waggin' Tutor Helps Kids Relax into Reading Enthusiastically

  1. This is a wonderful program, and hats off to Carol and Fredo!! They are shining jewels of doing good deeds for others!!

  2. Carol and Fredo bring yet another exciting program to the Desmond Fish Library, and this one uniquely benefits both humans and canines. Who would have thought? The joy of sharing a good read is amply evident on all the faces featured in the article. Wowf!

  3. As one who has cherished the pleasure of knowing Fredo intimately, ever since he was a puppy, I’m pleased and proud to add this pawnote to his story. Fredo Canfield is a dog of discerning taste and selectivity. No pup in all of Putnam County is as Well Bred and Well Read as he! BRAVO FREDO!

  4. As one who has cherished the pleasure of knowing Fredo intimately, ever since he was a puppy, I’m pleased and proud to add this pawnote to his story. Fredo Canfield is a dog of discerning taste and selectivity. No pup in all of Putnam County is as Well Bred and Well Read as he! BRAVO FREDO!

  5. I am very proud to be Fredo’s escort at the Hudson Valley Hospital Center. To see the comfort and joy he brings to so many patients and their visitors is great. The staff also enjoy playing with Fredo providing a little respite and relaxation in a tense atmosphere.