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updated: 6/3/2013 8:20 AM

Service dogs help reading program

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  • First-grader Kaiden Clinton puts his head against golden retriever Riley, 7, a therapy dog, during a reading session at North Side Primary Care Center .

    First-grader Kaiden Clinton puts his head against golden retriever Riley, 7, a therapy dog, during a reading session at North Side Primary Care Center .
    Associated Press

Associated Press

HERRIN -- Golden retrievers Amos, 3, and Riley, 7, were in seventh heaven May 21 at North Side Primary Center for kindergarten and first grade students.

They lied on the floor, donned with blue bandanas and Therapy Dog vests and listened to small groups of school children read. And the children were more than happy to tackle the difficult task of reading to please their canine friends.

"It's fun because Riley and Amos are my friends. They lick me all the time. It makes me feel good," said first-grader Ella Chaney.

The dogs are part of a special canine reading program for students having difficulty grasping reading skills that includes word pronunciation and learning their letters. Students read out loud and then take time to interact with the dogs trained to special play commands such as shaking hands with their paw, extending both paws for a high five and rolling over to play dead.

"It's all about kids being comfortable and motivated by dogs being here. This has motivated me as a teacher," said North Side Primary teacher Tammy Newbold who owns Amos and Riley. She and her dogs have been trained through Willing Partners Canine Education, which is based in Logan. The company offers service and therapy dogs and basic and advance obedience training.

North Side Principal Cassie Burgess said she approached Newbold almost two years earlier requesting her help to start a remedial reading program to improve student reading performances. She is elated with Newbold and the special canine reading program.

"This is basically to help our struggling readers feel comfortable. This is used in conjunction with other learning interventions," Burgess said.

The students say the dogs have a calming quality and they feel with the dogs present.

"I like them because they will sit there and be quiet. They act very good," said Emmarie Bires, 5.

Newbold tells the students what they are experiencing with Amos and Riley present.

"They listen to me. They are well-behaved and fun to practice words and letters with," Newbold tells her students.

Amos and Riley have gone beyond the line of duty of helping students feel comfortable reading. Other North Side Primary students who improve their behavior get tickets to buy playtime with the dogs. The dogs have been therapeutic for North Side adults and teachers, Burgess said. And they have been part of various fundraising efforts and included in the school album.

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