Muddy Puddles, the Listening Dog

Lucky young pupils at Wells Cathedral Junior School have recently welcomed a caring and cuddly new friend to their classrooms. Muddy Puddles, a beautiful Australian labradoodle, and experienced ‘listening dog’, joins pupils in different Pre-Prep and Junior School classes once a week for group and one to one sessions with the children, helping them develop a passion for reading.

With his calm and loving temperament and soft, warm coat, Muddy Puddles provides a reassuring and soothing presence for children starting out on their reading journeys. He will put his head in the children’s lap and listens to them reading aloud, his placid manner and unconditional love helping to reduce levels of anxiety in pupils and improve their confidence.

Research shows that young people can become nervous and stressed when reading to others in a group, however, children who read to listening dogs show an increase in reading levels, word recognition, a higher desire to read and write, and an increase in intra and interpersonal skills.

Dogs like Muddy Puddles create an environment that immediately feels more relaxed and welcoming. Children who are struggling to read need to build confidence and Muddy Puddles provides a reassuring, uncritical audience and doesn’t mind one bit if mistakes are made! More experienced or capable readers can experiment with intonation and “voices”, knowing that Muddy Puddles will respond positively, thus building their fluency and comprehension.

In addition to his eagerly anticipated weekly sessions at Wells, Muddy Puddles also visits patients with his owner Debbie Wakeford at the Royal United Hospital in Bath providing joy and entertainment to those recovering from operations and illness.

Head of Wells Cathedral Junior School, Julie Barrow, said,

“Well-being is a huge priority here and Muddy Puddles has been a great new addition to our team, adding another level to our excellent pastoral care. Our children from 2+ (and staff!) eagerly await his weekly visits. Some children gain valuable sensory benefit from simply giving him an affectionate cuddle or stroke and others literally take him by the lead, which improves their self-esteem. Muddy has been such a success story that we have now also ‘employed’ Rio, another trained therapy dog, to visit weekly.”