Reading is essential, especially for kids.

Fourth grade students at Red Trail Elementary School in Mandan were in a for golden surprise on Friday.

They were visited by Rocky the Therapy Dog and his handler, Preston VanLoon.

“He’s so soft and just,  when I read to him, he kind of looks at me, you and he has those puppy eyes that I really like about him,” said fourth grader Bradley Jackson.

VanLoon says Rocky got his start three years ago.

And when he got him, he knew he wanted to train Rocky to help.

“As a therapy dog, his special is reading with students. And what happens when the students come and meet with Rocky, they come two at a time. And are able to read to him from whatever book they want to read in a nonjudgmental atmosphere where they can practice their literacy skills, reading skills, and develop confidence and feel secure,” said VanLoon.

This is the second year Red Trail fourth graders have been reading with Rocky.

The instructional coach at the school, says that making students feel more comfortable while reading, sets them up for success.

“The more you read, obviously the more words that you are exposed to. The more you’re gonna know. The more fluent you’re gonna get. So it’s important to start out young so you can just keep on going,” said Jerri Carlson.

In addition to providing pet therapy to schools, VanLoon says Rocky also makes visits to the hospital and other places throughout the week.

Let’s give a round-of-a-paws to Rocky.

VanLoon says if you’re interested in getting a visit from Rocky, you can reach out on Rocky’s Facebook Page.

VanLoon is also a certified dog trainer.

He can be reached at (701) -415-8080 or