Logo - Burns By Your Side Reading Dog Scheme

2019 Volunteer Applications - Our training sessions in the UK will commence in March 2019

Thank you for your interest in the Burns by Your Side Reading to Dogs Scheme, a pioneering and valuable service benefitting children of all ages, funded by The Burns Pet Nutrition Foundation.

If you are a potential volunteer or a school interested in participating in the scheme, you will find all you need to know from the following pages. Please use our links page to discover interesting information and research, including the results of the Burns by your Side (BBYS) independent impact study undertaken by University of Wales Trinity St David’s.

Use the menu bar above to navigate the site and if you feel that you would like to get involved, simply complete our straightforward application form and we will be in touch.

In 2019 we will be accepting applications from volunteers and schools in the following areas:

  • • Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion – BBYS Accredited Dog Training Centre and Fun & Games Dog Training in Pembrokeshire.
  • • Carmarthenshire – BBYS Accredited Dog Training Centres in Kidwelly Carmarthenshire
  • • Swansea Neath Port Talbot – Kirks Training Academy in Swansea
  • • South & Central Dublin, Co Wicklow and North Dublin in 2020 – BBYS Accredited Dog Training Centre with Wonderpaws

Each year we can take on a small number of individual applications from volunteers & schools in other areas of the UK. This will entail some commitment to travel to meet us for an initial temperament assessment for your dog and an overnight stay in West Wales for our free BBYS Placement Training workshop. Please do apply and we can let you know.


Burns by Your Side is a scheme aimed at children who could benefit from improved reading and communication skills.

The idea which is tried and trusted in the US helps children in a variety of education settings gain confidence in building their vocabulary and fluency by reading to a dog. Using specially trained volunteers and their companion dogs, these very special animals come to a school or library to hear the children read. The scheme also supports children in nurturing or special provision units to help increase feelings of well-being through a therapy visit.


Motivate a child to read independently


Build self confidence and self esteem


Improve reading fluency


A child feel less stressed and anxious



Learning to read or communicating generally can be fearful for many children. Research has shown that reading to a dog as a companion can reduce stress levels, increase relaxation and provide a comfortable situation where there is no peer pressure. This creates an environment where a child is empowered and motivated. A dog is a compassionate listener and doesn’t judge. 


Preferably on a one-to-one basis, a child will read or communicate with the Burns by Your Side dog. The dog is supervised at all times by the skilled handler, who will remove any pressure from the child and provide gentle support. The environment creates a calm non-judgmental atmosphere where additional reading or communication practice builds vocabulary and fluency. 


A Burns by Your Side volunteer team consists of a well-trained therapy dog working alongside their handler. The animals are good-natured and thoroughly assessed for their levels of obedience and temperament by a fully qualified dog trainer and assessor. Volunteer handlers have undertaken the safeguarding training and an enhanced DBS check. We advocate the best possible working environment and practice for the welfare of the dogs and some of our volunteer handlers are specialist dog trainers. Others are teachers or people who are passionate to make a positive contribution to help our future generation.


Could you and your dog spare a few hours each month to visit a local school to help improve children's literacy and confidence?

We are looking for some very special volunteers.

‘Burns by Your Side’ will give you and your dog the opportunity to become a trained volunteer team. Working alongside your dog, you will visit a local school for a few hours each month.

This valuable service will help children with their reading as well as building confidence and well being with children that have special nurturing needs. You need to be over 18 and have an obedient, gentle and well behaved dog that is more than 18 months old and has lived with you for at least a year. Full training for you and your dog, on-going support and travelling expenses will be offered to assistance teams that pass the assessment process. 

For those that need more training or support we have dedicated BBYS dog training partners that can help.


  • The opportunity to become a volunteer for the Burns ‘By Your Side’ scheme, helping to make a difference to the lives of schoolchildren across areas of Wales and Ireland.
  • To enjoy valuable experience for both you and your dog and to learn new skills.
  • To make new friends and contacts and be part of a close working team that feels like a very special family.
  • A smart branded uniform for you and your dog.
  • Reimbursement of local travel expenses and for training and development days
  • BBYS placement, full training, volunteer policies, insurance cover and DBS checking.
  • To volunteer for a charitable trust founded by Burns Pet Nutrition LTD.


  • To help build and maintain a consistent relationship with a local school/s in your area.
  • To make regular visits to read with children in a classroom environment or within nurturing groups to offer a learning support visit.
  • To ensure at all times that you are working within the parameters of the Burns ‘By Your Side’ procedures and policies, and safeguarding the welfare of children.
  • To be committed to the welfare of your dog and make sure your pet is happy and comfortable at all times.
  • To provide valuable feedback for the development of the scheme.
  • To act appropriately within a school environment.


Your dog’s temperament and behaviour are very important when working with children. We have developed an assessment and training pathway that meets the recommended guidelines for working as a learning support dog in a school setting.

We are looking for some very special volunteers that...

Are able to volunteer some time each week or fortnight to visit a school or special nurturing unit.

Are good natured, presentable and enjoy working with children of all age groups.

Can volunteer additional time for on-going training, supervision and group development sessions that will occur throughout the year.

Have access to reliable transport to visit a school in your locality and occasional visits to Burns headquarters in Carmarthenshire for training and development sessions.

Have simple computer literacy skills with the facility to communicate by email and a Facebook closed page (we can help you set up this closed Facebook page if necessary).

Certain levels of obedience and behaviour are required from your dog but full training will be given.

Application Form and Introductory meeting
If you and your dog fulfil the criteria, we will arrange an initial meeting for you to understand the scheme a little more, discuss your volunteering desires and see if your dog will be comfortable in his/her volunteering role.
Training Standards
Your dog must have passed The Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze and Silver Award at your local dog training centre. Training must have been completed within last 2 years.
Burns by Your Side Preparation workshops – 6 weekly sessions taking place in West Wales, delivered by qualified dog trainers at dedicated centres. Daytime and evening classes are available. Venue and workshop details will be emailed following initial assessment. These courses are competitively priced and are designed to further develop your bond with your dog while meeting the required Burns by Your Side training standards, in a gentle, fun and encouraging way. Our team is committed to using force free positive training methods.
BBYS Placement Training: 2-day workshop free of charge
Once you have met the required standard for dog temperament and training, we will equip you with everything you need to be comfortable and safe in your new volunteer role. We will arrange insurance, safeguarding training and undertake a DBS check where appropriate (Child Protection Training and Garda Vetting process in Ireland).
Mentoring and Support
We will support you in finding the school, library or education setting of your choice. We will meet with the Head to organise the agreement. We will arrange and attend a meet and greet assembly to introduce you and your dog to the school. We will accompany and help you with your first live reading session.
Part of the BBYS family
Once you have successfully completed all the above stages, you and your dog will be a fully qualified “Burns by Your Side, Reading Team and a member of the BBYS family. Our support doesn’t end there. We are always around to help and arrange regular get-togethers and information sessions. We have a closed Facebook page for everyone to keep in touch with each other and share inspiring stories.


If you would like to apply for the 'By Your Side' scheme please complete this application form. Please note we cannot accept applications from owners who feed a raw diet or raw food products to their dog.
One in six children struggle to read and write and 12 million adults has literacy levels expected of an 11-year old. LITERACY TRUST 2013 – LOST FOR WORDS – POOR LITERACY THE HIDDEN ISSUE BEHIND CHILD POVERTY


Presently the Burns By Your Side scheme is open to schools for children of all ages in the following areas:

Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion
Carmarthenshire & Brecon
Swansea & Neath Port Talbot 
South & Central Dublin, Co Wicklow (North Dublin in 2020)

If you are a school interested in participating in the Reading to Dog Scheme, we would love to hear from you. Click here to fill in an application form.

We can help you find a volunteer team for your school in three ways:

We welcome libraries, special educational needs units and further education settings.  Please email carol@burnspet.co.uk in the UK or orlagh@burnspet.ie in Ireland for more information.

Please note that we are currently experiencing a high level of enquiries and as we are a very small team, it may be some time before we can respond to you. Please be assured that we will be in contact with you as soon as we can.

When a suitable volunteer team has graduated:

We like to meet with the Head or Principal to discuss how the scheme works, due diligence, parental consent, risk assessments and safeguarding procedures.
If you wish we can provide a brief presentation to your team or parents on the impact of the scheme and how to get the most from this invaluable service. We often do this at a twilight staff meeting.
We can attend an assembly to introduce your new volunteer and dog to the children. We show the children how to greet and respect and animal and how they can feel safe around a dog in a threatening situation.
Burns ‘By Your Side’ is one of a series of projects being developed to benefit communities via the Burns Pet Nutrition Foundation ( Registered charity 1165392 ). Burns Pet Nutrition is a nationally respected Pet Food company. Burns Pet Nutrition was founded in Carmarthenshire by Veterinary Surgeon, John Burns in 1993. Visit www.burnspet.co.uk to learn more about our community work.