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As a shy 8-year-old, Emma Baer isn't very comfortable reading out loud in school. But mom Laura Baer is hoping certified therapy dogs Norm and Chouteau will bring Emma out of her shell.

Norm, the black Labrador, and Chouteau, the mixed-breed rescue dog, were all ears — and full of cuddles — for Emma last week during their monthly visit to the Glen Carbon Public Library as part of the Sit Together And Read program.

"We're here to help her with her reading and to build her confidence," said Baer, who lives in Troy.

The program is one of many across the country based on research that found children are more comfortable reading out loud in the presence of an attentive non-judgmental dog as opposed to an adult or in a classroom. That comfort level encourages children to read more, which improves their reading skills.

A recent University of California study found students who read to therapy dogs once a week for 10 weeks saw their reading proficiency improve by 12 percent.

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