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Reading Comes Easier for Kids When Rover's Around

Reciting aloud to dogs boosts children's literacy, studies find

FRIDAY, June 18 (HealthDay News) -- Third grader Zephaniah San Juan didn't like reading books. No matter what the subject, he could barely get through one chapter before calling it quits.

Weeks later he'd reluctantly pick up the book again but only skim through a few pages.

"I thought it was kind of boring," the 9-year-old admitted of reading.

Now that's changed, thanks to a little canine intervention.

Zephaniah took part in a recent study where nearly a dozen home-schooled children in the Sacramento, Calif., area read aloud to therapy dogs once a week for 15 minutes.

The experience not only sparked Zephaniah's interest in the written word but the entire group became better readers.

During the 10-week study, conducted by a team at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, students visited the campus weekly to read for just a few minutes to their therapy dog of choice.

Zephaniah picked Molly, a Rottweiler mix, because he liked her jet black coat. Lollipop, a Jack Russell terrier blend and Digory, part Labrador, also patiently listened to any fictional tale the children chose to tell.

The three pooches are part of the All Ears Reading program, which is run by St. Louis Cardinals baseball manager Tony La Russa as part of his Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). The program pairs up kids with dogs as reading partners.

At the end of the study, the students, aged 7 to 12, showed a 30 percent improvement in their reading fluency, the UCD researchers found.

In a second study involving third-grade students from Tremont Elementary school in Dixon, Calif., reading to Rover boosted kids' fluency by 12 percent.

The biggest improvements came from third graders in the public school that read below grade level, added Martin Smith, a veterinary school science educator at UC Davis and one of th

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