No one will disagree with us in saying that dogs are pretty smart creatures. They can learn different languages, act as their human’s eyes and ears, and even be trained to perform a wide variety of different jobs. But a dog having the ability to read? That seems a little far-fetched… or does it?
Meet Fernie, the chocolate lab from Somerset in South West England. Over the past two years, this smart pup has been part of a national program called Dogs Helping Kids that aims to improve the literacy, behavior, and self-esteem of school-aged children in England.
Fernie’s owner, Mr. Gardner, is a head teacher at Winford Primary School and made the decision to enroll his five-month-old pup in the program so he could help motivate the children in his class.
Since Fernie was brought into the classroom two years ago, he has quickly become a star pupil, learning to read the written commands for sit, lie down, roll over, and spin around.
This may sound like something out of a Disney movie, but Mr. Gardner assures that the training was, in fact, quite simple.
To teach Fernie to read, Mr. Gardner began by using a clicker technique to teach the pup to associate a treat with a distinctive sound. As this training progressed, he began to show simple commands written on a flashcard while giving the spoken command.
As Fernie got the hang of this, Mr. Garner stopped using the verbal commands and relied exclusively on the written cards. Before he knew it, Fernie was able to successful perform the tricks by reading the command from the card.
It’s no surprise that students at Winford Primary School have been inspired by Fernie’s newfound literacy. By seeing that even a dog is able to learn to read, it really boosts their confidence and motivation to learn new words.
While some dog behaviorists insist that Fernie is not so much reading as learning the patterns associated with specific words, we won’t let that crush our dreams of dog literacy. Dog book club, anyone?
H/t to Daily Mail