The Dog on a Log books were created by Pamela Brookes to teach her daughter who struggled with dyslexia how to read. They are based on Orton-Gillingham methodology, an intensive phonetic approach. Necessary sight words are taught, but the emphasis is on learning to decode words phonetically.
Brookes has written two books that explain how to use the three different series of Dog on a Log books. The two books are titled Teaching a Struggling Reader: One Mom’s Experience with Dyslexia and the other is How to Use Decodable Books to Teach Reading. These are both available free online, although you can order a printed copy of the first book if you wish.
There’s a lot of overlap between the two books, but there is important information in each one. You can initially skim through some of the information in both books to get a quick idea of how the program works. Detailed instructions are included within the first series of books, so you need not master how the entire program works before you start.
If you are not sure about where to start, Brookes includes the Dog On a Log Quick Assessment Tool online as well as in How to Use Decodable Books to Teach Reading.
The three Dog on a Log series are Pup Books, Let’s Go! Books, and Chapter Books. These paperback books are all printed in black and white with a large, easy-to-read font. They have illustrations that are from photos and clip art, often cut and pasted together a little awkwardly. Free samples are available on the publisher’s website, so you can see before buying.
Parents teach throughout this program. The Pup Books contain much more instructional information than do the other two series. While the Let’s Go! Books and Chapter Books look like readers, they too require direct teaching as I explain below. Parents should move at whatever speed works for their child, reviewing and reteaching if that is needed, so there is no suggested schedule.
Dog on a Log has many of the components of some of the higher-priced Orton-Gillingham reading programs such as All About Reading and The Logic of English. Those programs provide everything you need, while Dog on a Log requires parents to create resources from printables and teach without scripted lessons once past the Pup series.
The Pup Books lay the foundation by teaching a number of pre-reading and beginning-reading skills. There are three books in this series.
Before the Squiggle Code: Book 1 does not have children do any reading at all. Instead, it works entirely on auditory skills. Children learn to identify rhyming sounds, individual syllables in words, beginning sounds, ending sounds, and middle sounds. The final lessons have children practice adding and removing sounds to make different words, such as adding j to am to make jam and removing f from fit to make it.
The Squiggle Code: Book 2 teaches the five short vowel sounds and the 21 primary consonant sounds. Kids’ Squiggles: Book 3 provides reading practice with the phonograms (written letters that represent sounds) and sight words learned in Book 2. The Dog on A Log program teaches 44 phonemes (speech sounds) in all, and the phonemes not covered in Book 2 and Book 3 are taught in the next two series.
Lowercase and uppercase letters are taught together in Book 2. Children follow a consistent lesson pattern for learning the name of each letter, its sound, a key word, and how it is formed (through tracing activity). After children learn the first six letters (a, s, m, f, t, and n), they learn to blend them into words. A number of different activities walk them through this stage so that they can read sentences using only words made from the letters they have learned, along with some sight words.
Free printables that you might start using along with Book 2 include gameboards, flashcards, card games, and traceable letter cards in the D’Nealian font (a slant-print style). Brookes says that children should learn to write as they learn to read, and she provides some tips on how to teach handwriting.
Let’s Go! Books Series and Chapter Books Series
Concepts taught in these two series are organized into steps 1 through 10, with a few more steps still to be added. Originally, the Chapter Books series was the only option to follow the Pup Books series. Brookes saw that some children were overwhelmed by the number of words on the pages, so she scaled down the chapter books for the first five steps to create the Let's Go! Books series. For example, the first story in the Let’s Go! Books series has about 50 words while the corresponding first story in the Chapter Books series has more than 250 words. Even though the Let’s Go! Books use far fewer words than do the Chapter Books, both series of books tell the same stories and use all of the same key phonetic words. The Chapter Books do introduce more sight words. Both series cover the same essential reading skills and phonic concepts through the first five steps, so choose one series or the other for the first five steps.
At that point, Brookes believes that most children will be comfortable reading the Chapter Books series. So there are only books from the Chapter Books series from that point on. (Only nine steps of the Chapter Books series are available as I write this review, although the tenth is in production, and additional books are planned.)
For each step, there are a number of stories. These can be purchased as individual, small books or as collections of all books for the step. I recommend the latter since it's much more cost effective.
At the end of each book in both series, there are lists showing which new phonetic concepts and sight words are taught in each step. Instructions in How to Use Decodable Books to Teach Reading tell us to teach the new concepts and sight words before having a child begin to read the books for that step. Only a few new concepts and sight words are added with each step. For instance, step five adds the phonogram nch and silent-e words such as bake, crane, and hike, along with the sight words come, egg, walk, talk, and pull. However, unlike the explicit instruction included in the Pup series, the Let's Go! and Chapter Books have no instruction about how to teach within the books themselves. The instructions in the teacher’s book are also a bit vague.
If you prefer to use a program that provides more-detailed teaching instructions, workbooks, or printable resources past the beginning level, you can still use the Let’s Go! Books and Chapter Books as readers alongside most other phonics-based reading programs.
Parents with children who struggle to learn to read, but who can’t afford one of the expensive programs, can use the Pup series along with the printable resources to provide a thorough, multisensory foundation in beginning reading. With that foundation in place, it should be relatively easy to teach the other phonetic concepts. Parents can then choose one of the other two series from Dog on a Log to continue the program.