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Fido's New Forte: Helping Kids Learn to Read

FRIDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Dogs can teach children about responsibility, shower them with love and maybe even help them maintain their reading skills.

Researchers found that reading aloud to canine companions over the summer slightly improved some second-graders' ability to read and their attitude about reading. On the other hand, children who read to adults experienced declines in both areas, the study found.

The study, published online by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Mass., involved second-grade students with different reading abilities and attitudes about reading. Last summer, the children were paired with either dogs or people and asked to read aloud to them once a week for 30 minutes for five weeks.

The therapy dogs used for the study were trained for the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) Program, which runs programs at the public library near the school.

The study authors were surprised to see no significant improvement in below-average readers who were paired with dogs.

"As with all academic studies exploring a new area, this small study raises more questions than creates answers," said study co-author Dr. Lisa Freeman. She said she hopes answers will emerge as the reading program continues at the local library.

But in terms of persistence, the dogs paid off. Whereas one-third of the children who were asked to read to people dropped out, all of the dog readers completed the project.

Experts note that research is considered preliminary if it has not been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny required for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health & Human Development provides more information on human-animal interaction.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Tufts University, news release, Aug. 10, 2011

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