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Clicker Training Transforms Families at Risk: SHIP

"Dogs and cats, like us, have feelings. They cannot be abused or treated unfairly. Please treat your animals the way you Want to be treated."
-Five-year-old SHIP program participant

Many clicker trainers have experienced it. You are training your dog, clicking and reinforcing for desired behavior, making swift progress toward your goal, and communicating with your animal at a level you never dreamed possible. Suddenly, it dawns on you that clicker training is so much more than a training technique; it is a powerful new way of interacting, a technology and a philosophy rolled into one-that can change lives.

"The participants receive positive reinforcement for newly acquired skills, and learn to give positive reinforcement to each other, both in and out of the therapy sessions."

The clicker trainer's epiphany has changed many lives, yet perhaps none so dramatically as the children and their parents with the good fortune to work with Lynn Loar, Ph.D. (a ClickerExpo faculty member), Libby Coleman, Ph.D., and their colleagues in the Strategic Humane Interventions Program (SHIP), an animal-assisted therapy program for families at risk of abuse and neglect.

In their new book and accompanying CD Teaching Empathy: Animal-Assisted Therapy Programs for Children and Families Exposed to Violence (a Latham Foundation Publication, 2004), Loar and Coleman describe their innovative intervention approach and how it transforms family dynamics. In SHIP, social workers, therapists, and other professionals are trained to work with children and parents from high-risk backgrounds by bringing dogs, clickers, and treats into therapy sessions. Sidestepping cultural, educational, and language barriers, the participants learn to clicker train shelter dogs to become more adoptable. In the process, these families to learn to observe and reward positive behavior, rather than observe-and punish-only negative behavior. The participants receive positive reinforcement for newly acquired skills, and learn to give positive reinforcement to each other, both in and out of the therapy sessions. Soon they begin to interact with each other in positive, collaborative ways, to become more empathetic, tolerant, observant, generous, and effective. And the parents and children have fun together-often for the first time.

Now in place in several cities across the country, the SHIP program has seen remarkable successes. Teaching Empathy explains how to design and implement the program in any setting that seeks to heal children who have been exposed to violence and repair family dynamics that lead to violence. The book and accompanying CD includes the key forms, pledges, and other implementation material used in the program, plus an extraordinary translation of Karen's 15 rules into Spanish and Chinese, and an extraordinary adaptation for children of a selection from Clicker Training for Dogs-both written by the SHIP kids themselves.

NEW! Teaching Empathy: Animal-Assisted Therapy Programs for Children and Families Exposed to Violence, $38.95

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